Passing through the unique geology of the Colorado Plateau high desert, Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway is a mesmerizing mix of landscapes carved into shapes of every kind by wind and water. It offers a rich but fragile mix of natural resources. The stunning rock formation, Shiprock, is a central scenic point that is visible from most places on the Trail of the Ancients. Shiprock provides a focal point for the interpretive theme of the landscape and helps to integrate the trail stops.
The Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway begins at Chaco Canyon, located in San Juan County of Northwestern New Mexico. Driving south out of the Park, you will pass through some of the most expansive country you're likely to find anywhere. Near Crownpoint, known for its monthly Navajo Rug auction, the byway winds through sandstone buttes right out of a John Wayne western. Driving west, El Morro National Monument appears suddenly on the horizon like a huge ocean liner. Since the 1500s, El Morro was an important stop for travelers in the region who often carved their names in the soft sandstone walls of the butte. Head to Zuni and Gallup and immerse yourself in the Native American experience at both the Zuni Pueblo and Navajo Nation. The last leg of the journey takes you through Farmington on U.S.64 where the ruins of two pueblos are open to the public: Aztec Ruins National Monument and Salmon Ruins. Both of these Chacoan outliers were settled in the eleventh century. Visit the Bisti badlands for as close to a lunar experience as you can have here on earth! The fantastically colored and shaped formations were created by erosion of geological strata of varying colors and resistance. The drive west on U.S.64 to the Arizona border captures the essence of the Trail of the Ancients as the road descends a canyon filled with yellow- and gray-striped hills. The bright green swath of a wash dazzles among subtle earth tones.