Ruin Site of Alta Vista or Chachihuites, Zacatecas
State. The builders displayed a knowledge of both
magnetic north and geographic north
by the placement of buildings.
Bus to Alta Vista Ruin Site from Zacatecas
Zenith Day Sundial
Update, February 2015The archaeological ruin site of Altavista is a rarely-visited site located in the small farming and mining town of Chalchihuites in Zacatecas State. Although the site remains obscure, some very unique events happen at Altavista several times a year, solar events that shape our lives but events that we rarely consider.
This June 2014 I visited by taking an Omnibus from Norte Station in Mexico City to Zacatecas and from there taking an Omnibus to the town of Sombrerete. From Sombrerete I reached the town of Chalchihuites by local bus, a two hour ride for 53 Pesos.
On this trip I was in Chalchihuites on the 15th and 16th, not quite Zenith Day at the Tropic of Cancer, June 21-22, but close enough to observe the diminishing shadows formed at the standing stones as the sun moves north.
|Hall of Columns|
I rode to the site in a taxi operated by Manuel, (tel. 457-105-1041.)
I arranged pickup with him, 130 Pesos each way.
On my first visit several years ago I fell in love with this massive stone timepiece built into the plains of Chalchihuites, a ten-acre sundial built almost 2000 years ago by a culture that had a passion for tracking the movement of the sun over the earth.
Altavista Ruin is so out of the tourist track that few people visit, the caretaker told me, except during the annual Zenith Day of June 21-22, and during the equinoxes of March and September when the sun can be observed to rise over certain peaks in the distant mountains.
The caretaker explained the sight-lines to the distant mountains created with wall placements by the people who built Alta Vista. The builders put much thought into the phenomenon of the sun's movement over the earth; so much so that they built standing stones and stone columns throughout the site to track that movement. On Zenith day the sun casts no shadow at the base of standing stones at mid-day.
It wasn't until a few years before my first visit to Altavista that I had given any thought to the apparent seasonal movement of the sun over the earth and the resultant zenith days, the seasons, daylight savings times, and the winter doldrums of latitude 43 weather in New England. The phenomenon came to prominence for me at the ruin site of Monte Alban, high above Oaxaca City, where the ancients built a zenith observation tube and a standing zenith stone, both to record the May and August Zenith days at Monte Alban.
This photo taken in October shows the suns shadow
falling to the north of the stones as the sun moves
south over the earth towards the December equinox.
After that visit I did some reading and would learn that it is not the sun that moves over the earth, but the tilted angle of the earth's axis that causes the apparent movement of the sun, north to south each year as the earth revolves around the sun. That is the little considered phenomenon that gives us four seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres.
The zenith days and equinoxes have Northern Hemisphere-centric names given by various European geographers over the years including first century Rome's Pliny. Anyone who has lived well north of the Tropic of Cancer, as Pliny did living in Rome at latitude 41, knows that their climate makes drastic changes throughout the year. The same happens for those living well south of the Tropic of Capricorn. During the winter months when it is cold in the northern hemisphere, the Summer occurs in South America and Africa, which have their longest periods of daylight and hottest weather during December. On December 21 the sun is at its zenith on the Tropic of Capricorn and appears to be directly overhead in the mid-day at latitude 23* 26' 16", over the driest place on earth, the Atacama Desert of Chile.
Most of us don't give this much thought, nor did I until that trip to Monte Alban where I saw the shadow of the zenith column and the elegant simplicity of that standing stone's ability to record the apparent movement of the sun.
After December 22, the earth has moved around the sun enough to move the northern hemisphere closer to the sun and the sun appears to move north over the earth each day towards its zenith day over the Tropic of Cancer at Chalchihuites at latitude 23* 26' 16" on June 21-22, during the Summer Solstice.
Because of the tilt of the axis of the earth the northern hemisphere moves closer to the sun. This zenith day at the Tropic of Cancer is the longest day in the northern hemisphere. If you traveled north from Chalchihuites, the duration of daylight would increase until at the north pole the sun would not set at all on the 22nd of June.
Between these apparent extreme movements of the sun over the earth are the Fall Equinox, which occurs on September 22, and the Spring Equinox, which occurs on March 22. These two dates are zenith days of the sun over the equator at Belem in Brazil, near latitude zero, half way between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. On these dates the period of daylight and darkness are equal in the northern and southern hemisphere at the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. See more at Equinox , Wiki
It is odd that the people of Mesoamerica would take notice of this apparent sun movement considering that in the tropics the periods of daylight and night are nearly the same throughout the year. The period of darkness to sunlight will only vary throughout the year in the northern and southern hemispheres and will become extreme at the poles.
The builders of Altavista constructed
walls that provide sight-lines to solar
events over distant mountains.
The builders of Alta vista did take great notice of the suns movement according to archaeologist J. Charles Kelley and archaeoastronomer Anthony Aveni, two researchers who analyzed and wrote about the solar significance of the ruin.
Omnibus serves the 100 miles between Zacatecas and Sombrerete with first class bus service. Local buses serve four trips daily the 35 miles between Sombrerete and Chalchihuites. 7am, 11 am, 3 pm, 7 pm.
Three-hour Omnibus de Mexico bus trips each hour from Zacatecas to Sombrerete for 160 pesos.
I have ridden with Omnibus before and find the service of good quality. They run from Mexico City all the way north to the US Border at Agua Prieta and Nogales while covering a huge area of northern Mexico north of Mexico City including service to Tampico and the US border on the Gulf of Mexico side.
From Sombrerete the Omnibus service goes north to Durango where they continue down over the mountains on the new highway over the western slope to the resort town of Mazatlan. Reach Altavista from Mazatlan via Omnibus or Estrella Blanca (Estrella Blanca Bus Terminal, Mazatlan) to Durango and Sombrerete.
Reach Sombrerete from Chihuahua via Omnibus, 440 Pesos
Note: There was only one hotel available in Chalchihuites during my June 2014 visit. (the mining companies have contracted the three other hotels)
Next, The Ruin of Alta Vista