There are several important scenes in Spider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman, that take place in Chaco Culture National Historic Park. I will try not to give spoilers, but will instead stick to simply “illustrating”–providing the reader with a bit more information on what’s mentioned in the text.

First of all, a map of the park.

NPS_map_of_Chaco_Culture_National_Historic_Park cropped

Gallo Campground

Gallo Campground

The Gallo camping area where Manuelito and Chee spend the night is marked on the lower right of the map, and I found a number of pictures that show how close it is to some of the ruins. They also mention seeing Fajada Butte. From the picture below, it looks like the campground should be a bit further to the left of the image (or the Butte should be to the right of the campground and tent picture).Fajada_Butte

Chaco canyon visitor_center

New Visitor Center

In the book, it’s been a few years since Chee has been to the park and he asks if the Visitor Center is new. He’s told it’s a few years old, and that the previous Visitor Center was built in the 1950s but was falling apart and was torn down in the early 2000s. There is a comment about the irony of the 50-year lifespan of the modern building sharing the site with native-built buildings that have lasted for over a thousand years.

The red line is the main park loop road, along which are several fatter bumps, which I assume are parking pull-outs; there is a larger one at the end of the spur that goes out to Pueblo del Arroyo.

wetherill grave

Wetherill’s Grave

Near where that spur breaks off from the main loop is Pueblo Bonito. In one scene, Chee tells Cordova a little about Richard Wetherill and mentions his grave. According to Wikipedia, Richard Wetherill is a somewhat controversial figure, which is also alluded to in the book. He was involved in much of the exploration, excavation, and removal of artifacts in the southwest. He was particularly involved at Mesa Verde and at Chaco Canyon. The Hillerman book mentions that over 70,000 artifacts were removed from Pueblo Bonito alone, one of the main areas Wetherill was known for excavating. Wetherill had filed a homesteading claim on Chaco Canyon, but relinquished it contingent upon it becoming a National Park. It became a National Monument in 1907, and Wetherill continued to live there and continued his work until his death in 1910. The Wikipedia page is a bit vague, as is the mention of his death in the Hillerman book, but it’s possible he was killed in a bit of a political feud. In any case, he and his wife are buried on park land, and their graves are a little bit west of the Pueblo Bonito site.

Pueblo Bonito itself is pretty amazing–3 acres, 800 rooms, 4-5 stories tall in some places!

At one point in Spider Woman’s Daughter, Hillerman has the main characters discuss a little about the mysteries surrounding the people who built Pueblo Bonito and the other Chaco Culture building sites.

“Is the mystery still where the people went?”

“That one has been pretty much solved,” he said. “It used to be said that they disappeared. Better research showed that they moved on when conditions here got too hard. No one yet really knows why they settled here in the first place, built these huge structures and miles of wide roadway to connect them. And of course we don’t know what went on in their kivas.”

The Hidden Architecture site, where the above pictures are from, has some nice information about Pueblo Bonito including a basic discussion about the kivas and the various theories about ceremonial uses for the site. The roads mentioned in the quote above are also important to the story in Hillerman’s book.


pueblo del arroyo

Pueblo del Arroyo

There’s also a description of Chee hiking to the top of a mesa near Pueblo del Arroyo. This site gives a detailed trail account of the full hike, and there is at least once when Chee seems to be scrambling up a steep cliff, like some of the spots described in this web account. However, it seems most likely that Chee (and Cordova) just cover the first part of the trail, from the parking pullout, past Kin Kletso and the Stone Basins, to the Bonito Overlook rather than the full loop including the Chacoan or Jackson Stairway. From where the two men stand at the top, they can see the Wetherill grave, which, as I noted above, is just west of Pueblo Bonito.

Kin Kletso

Kin Kletso


pecked basins

Pueblo Alto Loop 008-1

scramble up to Bonito overlook


Pueblo Bonito overlook

Of course, the other reason Chaco Culture National Historic Park is important in Spider Woman’s Daughter, is because of the artifacts. According to the National Park Service site, the Chaco Museum collection contains over a million artifacts and almost as many archival records. Apparently the new Visitor Center is not totally finished, so the collection is mainly housed at the University of New Mexico’s Albuquerque campus, and there is also a web exhibit where many items can be viewed.

The American Indian Resource Center is a fictitious museum that features in the book. While there is a center by the same name in Los Angeles, there is nothing by that name that I could find in Santa Fe. I suppose if you are going to write a book which includes the theft of valuable artifacts, fake reproductions being substituted and falsely authenticated, and even murder–all done by researchers affiliated with a museum–it might be politic (and have fewer legal implications) to change the name of the museum involved!

From what I could tell, the book’s AIRC is probably based, at least partly, on the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe (minus the murderer and various artifact scandals!). Like the organization in the book, the MIAC bills itself as a Laboratory of Anthropology, with scholars conducting research involving the museum’s collection. Hillerman also mentions Mary Cabot Wheelwright, while carefully not mentioning the prominent Wheelwright Museum. On their FAQ page, their site mentions that the Wheelwright Museum has a collection of sandpainting textiles by Hosteen Klah (or Hastiin Klah by their spelling), which have restricted access due to the sacred nature of the depictions. This matches some of the discussion of the Hosteen Klah weavings mentioned in the Hillerman book.

SantaFe map museums croppedBoth museums are in Santa Fe, and, as can be seen on this map, are quite close to each other, on Camino Lejo, off Old Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Botanical Garden is across the street, and there is a garden near the AIRC which features in the Hillerman book as well. For reference, the downtown area is a bit northwest of this area, known as Museum Hill.


Much of the mystery in Spider Woman’s Daughter, is centered on these cylinders, found in Chaco–in Pueblo Bonito, in fact. I found a fascinating article about them–their discovery and the research that went into finding out what they were used for. Although one of the characters in the book at first says the one in her office is an urn (and implies that it contains the ashes of her dead fiance), she later explains that they were used for drinking chocolate, much as similar Mayan ones were.


It was interesting how much historical information Hillerman was able to jam into Spider Woman’s Daughter. Although at times it did come across as a bit forced or awkward, mostly it was well-placed and not overdone.

I was slightly disappointed that the Klah weavings were not available for viewing online, but I recognize the sacred nature of their depictions and the museum’s decision to be respectful in their stewardship of these artifacts from another culture. There are, in fact, many pictures of Klah’s weavings and others in his tradition–called sandpaintings–on the web, and they are beautiful, even for those of us who don’t understand their meaning. There are even a number of them for sale, with descriptions citing how rare they are but not mentioning the sacred nature of their depictions or the controversy surrounding them. Probably my posting or refusing to post any of the photographs or links won’t make any difference, but even so, I won’t post any links.

Now I’m going to go have some cocoa!

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