• Text and Photos by Jeremy Marley

Honoring the Ancient in All of Us

In 2008, I had the opportunity to take a park led tour to observe the Winter Solstice Sunrise at a sacred site in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, The fiery red morning light captured in this unedited image sparked one of the most spiritual experiences of my life, To understand the full magnitude of this experience, you must first know the history of Chaco.

The Chaco Canyon sites were built starting around the year 800 and abruptly stopped in the mid 1400's due to drought caused by deforestation to build vigas, or roof beams, of the pueblos. (Sound familiar?) In that 600 years it served as a cultural, religious and economic gathering site for people from across the America's.

Though it has little evidence of daily habitation, there is evidence of trade, like macaw feathers, turquois and abalone shells and even more remarkable evidence of Chaco as a spiritual center. The pueblos are constructed in alignment with the cardinal directions of the rising, mid day and setting suns of the winter and summer solstice. The entire structure itself is a calendar.

The top line of Pueblo Bonita, shown above, is in direct alignment with the rising and setting suns of the summer solstice. As the days shorten and sun travels further south on the horizon, sunlight moves along the circular part of the structure, allowing spiritual leaders to know when winter is approaching. Not only is each individual pueblo in alignment, but every pueblo site, miles from each other, are aligned to each other along the same cardinal directions. Even more amazing and unfortunately off limits is the Sun Dagger

Coming back to the future, I was tent camping, and had to wake up at 5:30 am to make the special tour. It was 8 degrees outside and when the stove would not light and I realized there would be no coffee. I almost convinced myself to go back to sleep all cozy in my tent, but something deep inside me forced me up and out. Also why I now sleep with my stove burner if its that cold.

The sky was was covered in clouds. A small group of us gathered at the frosted ranger station. Cold, questioning if we'd see anything and some of us our sanity, we were eager to go. True nature geeks! We traveled to the Wijiji Site, where the medicine men would have gathered over 1000 years ago to watch rising solstice sun. The ranger told us how these men would gather around fires, sing songs and burn incense through the long night, praying for the Sun and Giver of Life, to return.

Standing at this spot there is a direct line from the rooms corner, to the next corner, through what was the window, straight onto the low point on the mesa's horizon where the Winter Solstice Sun is about to rise and as it did, lit the sky blood red to fiery orange

There was no incense and there was no song, but the spiritual power of that moment transcended time and I could hear and smell the ancient ones heralding the return of light and life. We were all moved to tears as we sat in silent, spiritual awe and though it was a cold the light of the Creator lite a fire inside of each of us brighter than the clouds that flamed above. We may have the ability to calculate how and when these celestial events occur but we will never comprehend why they do, nor their ability to move us beyond being time immortal. May you be so lite...

Happy Solstice.

Learn more at the Solstice Project.


Pick one spot to stand where you can observe the sunset on the winter solstice. Remember this spot, you will need to com back to it as the year progresses. As you observe the setting sun, make a note of where you see it on the horizon. Could be a tree, a building, a mountain, or a neighbors house. If you like, keep a log or a journal, detailing time, date, and location of sunset on horizon. Now, every two weeks or so, go back to that same spot at sunset and take note of where the sun is setting in relation to your initial observation. Continue this until the summer solstice June 20, and you will have the position of the setting sun from solstice to solstice.

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