Tuesday, August 23, 2005

August 1-6, 2004

Day one – August 1, 2004:

We hit the road around 8 am. We meant to go sooner but of course, we’re never ready on time. I took the dogs to the kennel last night. Don’t know if I’ll do that again. Neither liked being left behind. I need to find a way to take them with me from now on. Time to save for a small RV.

Leslie did most of the driving today. “I’m not doing 90 mph, your speedometer is wrong!” Apparently, in Maryland, having a car in front of you is an overt challenge that you must overcome. Tailgating enhances your prowess as the best and the fastest. If there’s a car within 50 miles (and there weren’t many!) she had to crawl up its tailpipe before passing! Richard has named her The Predator. We expected to be in El Paso by 10 pm. We arrived at 7 pm.

Richard took over the driving within El Paso and beyond. Neither Leslie nor I like driving in cities, so we generally do the long empty stretches and let someone else do the city traffic.

El Paso is a surprise. The land looks very much like the Mojave desert where I grew up. We stopped at a rest area to stretch our legs and the sharply sweet scent of the creosote bushes filled the air. It is a smell I associate with heat and dust. A salt cedar was flowering near the building and a lovely tree with long pods and purple flowers lined the walkways. The city itself is huge! I’m not sure of its population but its sprawled for miles and took us nearly thirty minutes to get through.

Evening dropped as we were going through. Once clear of the city, the night was dark and the stars were so bright and clear, you felt as if you could reach out and touch them. I’d forgotten that about the desert, how wonderfully clear the skies are at night and how deeply etched the stars are in the dark blanket of sky.

The road between San Antonio and El Paso is well-traveled, but you don’t feel it. There is so much of Texas! We were not the only car on the freeway, but unlike other places in the USA, the closest thing to a traffic jam is passing a truck while it is chugging up a small incline. Yes, Texas has hills and valleys. They’re not mountains, really, but elevation changes to some degree.

We stopped for the night in a small town called Los Lunas. Wide open skies and endless stars showcased the rising of the moon. A great orange globe hung low on the horizon, gently creeping upwards as it turned a golden yellow. Los Lunas, indeed. One expected to hear the lonesome cries of the coyote, blended with the cool dusty scent that is the essence of the desert. We slept well, knowing tomorrow’s trip would be much shorter as we estimated arrival around 2 pm in Mesa Verde, Colorado.

Day two - August 2, 2004

New Mexico is a land of contrasts. In many parts the people walk between two worlds. There are low and high desert regions, barren-looking mountains and green valleys, hot days and cold nights, cities and rural. The natives of the New Mexico region are of the Pueblo people encompassing the Hopi, Navajo and Zuni tribes. Their lives reflect the duality of their world. Modular homes are tucked between the sandy valleys and the traditional circular native hogan is often nearby. The hogans are as varied as the land, some are built of traditional earthen sources, some are built adobe style, some are built of modern materials. The only commonality is that they are always round, all have smoke holes and they always face East, into the rising sun. The settlers built cities and many natives have abandoned their traditional existence for the ease of varied lifestyles. In both city and country the blending of the many cultures is reflected in place names, products and services. Upscale shops sell Navajo and Zuni jewelry, and Reservation-sponsored stores offer modern soda and hot dogs alongside woven rugs and pottery.

That duality is repeated in the land itself. Much of the country is desert, with geological formations that almost defy description. Great rock mesas have been shoved to the surface by long ago volcanoes. Rolling dunes covered with close-cropped shrubs are interrupted by huge stone edifices that soar above the desert floor as if to fight free of their earth bound existence and fly through the clouds. The earth has a slight golden pink cast that eventually deepens to a lovely brick red. Altitude changes are heralded by a change in the vegetation. The lower desert has small scrubby plants close to the surface of the soil. Mid-level desert will have larger bushes, the occasional cactus and yucca plants and green areas near small arroyos and creek beds. The high desert is a study in contrasts. Hot, dry air shrivels the skin. An abundance of plant life proliferates in these high mesas and valleys, yet there are no trees or dense undergrowth. The earthen smell of decaying deciduous plants is not found here. In the mornings, the crisp clean scent of dew-dampened sage mists throughout the high plains and canyons.

In some areas water has been drilled from great underground rivers and the green valleys are lush with vegetation. Farms of alfalfa, corn and other useful crops have been planted and I am reminded of the Bible verse that states, “The desert shall rejoice and blossom like a rose.” The desert is indeed rejoicing as man changes his environment to meet his own needs. The changes made will have far-reaching effects on the plants and animals of this region and I wonder if that change will bring about an extinction of some of the unique life that is present here. But then again, life is about change and the dinosaurs are evidence that change IS within that cycle of life.

I’m not sure if it’s a planned thing, but the shoulders of some of the highways are lined with black-eyed susans. It took me a while to determine if they were sunflowers or susans. Susans are smaller and have no seedpod in the center. Its very pretty to see them nodding in the sun, leaves stirring as cars pass.

Another oddity that brought a smile in this vast open land were the trains. Long trains criss-cross the desert, a means of moving goods as cheaply as possible, one presumes. In this land of ancient culture and the cowboy tradition, the trains show how little our world has become. We saw as many cars painted with names such as Hyundai and Yuen Hang as we did with Southern Pacific and Sante Fe lines!

The desert itself is simply there. Although there are changes they are insignificant in geological years. Living here is not a contest of wills. Rather it is a testament to the strength of human will. Nature makes the desert appear inhospitable, but in the centuries that humans have tread upon and inhabited it, they have learned to live with the environment rather than against it. Over time plants and animals have been found to be useful for medicinal, ritual and religious purposes. Primitive peoples developed ways to use the environment to further enhance their lifestyle. They built with native materials, sand, stone, cedar and brush. They grew food that could survive the heat and infrequent rainfalls. Even now, villages blend into the environment, clinging to the stone-studded hillsides as if they’ve been there for centuries (and in some areas, they have been there for at least that long).

People here move with an unhurried, yet sensual awareness. They are ever alert to what goes on around them, from cloud formations to strangers crossing their path. Small observations on their part include questions about our travels, what we might see and what we are interested in. Friendly conversation yielded advice, opinions and interest in our impressions of their habitat. Most of our interaction was with the Hopi and the Navajo Indians that populate New Mexico. We stopped at the rest stops and found them selling native wares. In contrast to hurried shopping, they waited patiently as we examined their offerings. Questions were answered with professional pride and information on specific designs and techniques. Chatting was encouraged in a give-and-take exchange that was enlightening and fun. Tradition crept into the conversation like an afterthought, evidence that these people have an oral storytelling ability that is part of their culture. Shapes and colors in the jewelry symbolize everything from everyday life to religious meaning.

We bought jewelry, of course. In our family of women jewelry is an expression of art as well as our propensity for adornment. Leslie went traditional with nuggets of turquoise and coral. I bought liquid silver strands enhanced with small beads and fetishes.

We arrived at Mesa Verde around 3 pm. As the car climbed the Chapin Mesa, we were in awe of how well the Pueblo people hid their homes. The canyons are deep and narrow and from most vantage points around the valley and even on the mesa top, the dwellings are not visible.

Mom and Pa had been there for several days and had explored part of the mesa already. Pa found a place for some spectacular sunsets, so we meandered there after our catch-up chat to check it out. A deer approached camp close enough to almost be petted. She was too tame for the wild. Although campers are asked not to feed the animals, it is obvious that they do. We attended the Ranger talk in the amphitheater that evening. It was very cool so I brought a blanket which Leslie, Mom and I snuggled under as we listened. The Ranger tied together some of the mysticism of the Pueblo culture as it may have related to the clans and tribes of the time. Pure speculation, but his theories are as good as any, since we have no recorded history of these ancient cliff-dwellers.

Fire has decimated 85% of the park in the past 3 years. This is not the first time the park has taken a beating at the hands of nature (several of the fires were caused by lightening strikes). According to the Rangers, not one tree in the park is over seven hundred years old. They believe the mesa top is periodically cleared by fire, plant or animal disease, perhaps in an ancient cycle of life that we are only now beginning to comprehend.

Mom had a pack of stir-fry chicken planned for dinner and with salad and some bread, we ate well. We went to bed early, mostly because we were tired, but also because it had cooled considerably. Because of the danger of fire, no campfires or barbeques were allowed. Cooking and lanterns were propane only, since it is self-contained. Although I understand the Park’s reticence and even agree with it, I truly missed our nightly camp routine of sitting around the fire and talking!

Something took a walk around the campsite and investigated the lantern and cups we’d left on the table, but I simply rolled over and went back to sleep knowing we’d not left any food out for the nocturnal critters.

Day Three – August 3, 2004

We woke to clouds covering the sky. I say that but it’s not quite true. In this land were visibility can be measured in the hundreds of miles there is always a patch of blue sky within our eagle’s eye view. The clouds are spectacular. They fluff and pile upon one another, pillowing into bizarre shapes and joining others as they move. Against the backdrop of the deep blue sky, the clouds fascinated my imagination into seeing Godzilla and bunnies and even a cute little troll reaching for a star.

Our first stop was at the camp showers. Mesa Verde National Park has okay showers. The water wasn’t warm enough for me (but I am notorious for blazing hot showers, so they may suffice for others). They also use those high spray, low flow showerheads. I had to stand for a while to rinse my too-long hair. The shower stalls are ample enough to lay out belongings, but we had to go to the actual bathrooms to dry our hair with blowdryer and do makeup. One never knows when one is on a Mesa top camping when looking our best might be required.

Breakfast is where Mesa Verde has excelled. In a brilliant maneuver and unlike all the other national parks we’ve been to, they have a little canteen and serve all-you-can-eat pancakes with two sausage patties! Milk, coffee, hot chocolate and juice are the drinks they offer. The menu is simple but filling and considering the hiking we planned, we needed every calorie we could get. We hit the trails a lot sooner because we didn’t have to cook or go hunt down breakfast.

Going up to the top of Chapin Mesa was an experience. Mom is afraid of heights, mountain heights, that is. I say that because I too have a fear of heights, but mine is for man-made structures like the World Trade Center in 1996, Lewis Stadium (Oklahoma State University) in 2002 and the Bryce Jordan Center (Penn State University) in 2003. Mom was gripping my knee and the driver’s seat in an effort to control the fear. She was afraid to look away from Richard driving and nearly hyperventilated at several of the hairpin turns as we climbed ever higher. In all fairness, she managed to control this irrational fear well. It is hard to explain this kind of phobia to people who don’t suffer from phobias. Your rational mind is not in control and despite knowing the fear is probably groundless, it simply doesn’t compute to the body. The body instinctually braces for disaster and the mind struggles with reality as adrenaline flows in preparation for fight or flight.

Up at Far View Terrace we stopped to buy tickets to visit the cliff dwellings. The tickets are very reasonably priced ($2.95 per person) and are more to control the number of people in the cliff houses than to make money. The tours are Ranger-guided in groups from 15-30 people. The dwellings are small and extremely fragile to outside influence, so this is the best compromise the Park attendants could create to sustain the sites for future generations. We had about 15 minutes to go through the small explanatory museum and bookshop before we left for the cliff-dwellings. Pottery was the main find at these places and examples of early art forms and the development of the later ones is well documented.

Cliff Palace was our first stop. This is the largest of the three that tourists are allowed to visit with Rangers. There are 150 rooms and 23 kivas in the site. The view from inside the Palace is spectacular. The Pueblo people were small, the men averaged about 5’4” and the doorways were built high and tiny. This innovation screamed defense to Richard and Pa, both of whom are retired military and spent time playing war game scenarios and learning defensive positions. It is amazing how much and how little the archeologists have learned from these long ago people. Apparently a middens has never been found, which suggests they either recycled rigorously, or they carried it away each day. Or perhaps the passage of time has disintegrated it all, although with the archeologists’ retrieval of other natural products, this seems unlikely. The expected trash heaps and waste products of typical civilizations have not been found on site. The Rangers told us the archeologists say that the Pueblos dry-farmed the mesa tops and lived mostly up there and that the cliff-dwellings were largely ceremonial or religious and were occupied only by a few people. They also have found evidence of food storage facilities within the ruins.

The day was hot but overcast, so that was a blessing. Our next stop was Balcony House.
This cliff dwelling boasted ladders to climb up and a 14 inch tunnel we had to squeeze through. The tunnel didn’t bother me, in fact, it brought back a childhood delight of squeezing into a small space and then finding a standing-room hidey-hole. About four to five steps and we had to climb back out a narrow opening. The ladders took my breath away and I could feel a bit of hysteria coming on. I climbed the ladder one step at a time. I know the Ranger told us many significant details of Balcony House but I simply cannot remember anything except my terror. The first ladder is 32 feet high and is positioned about 2 feet from the edge of the cliff. A chain link fence keeps people from falling down the cliff-face, even of they do fall off the ladder. But as I stated with Mom, the fear is irrational and I must have been white-faced when I got to the top because the Ranger noted my agitation right away. So did the woman behind me, who kept asking if I was okay. We were then guided to another part of Balcony House for a small interpretation of events and people but again, I cannot remember what was said…because to get out, we had to go up another ladder! Again, safety was assured by careful positioning and chain link, but this one had me nearly hyperventilating. The Ranger stood at the top waiting for me and reached a hand as I neared him. I wasn’t about to let go, the poor man probably realized I didn’t trust him to hold me. I didn’t know I was crying until Mom noted the tears beneath my sunglasses! It took about twenty minutes for the adrenaline to dissipate and for me to stop shaking. That said, the trip was worth the terror. Although I cannot remember all that was said, I remembered enough to compare notes later.

We broke for lunch at Far View Terrace. The cafeteria there serves generous portions probably because they know everyone is starving after all the hiking and climbing. I burned enough calories and sweat that my pants and belt were quite loose by the end of the day. We spent time in the gift shop, looking at the modern art, jewelry, T-shirts and crafts. Although she wasn’t there, a Navajo weaver had a loom set up in a corner and the weaving looked to be a lovely modern pattern. I planned to ask if we came by again.

Our last jaunt for the day was Spruce Tree House. This is a self-guided tour through a smaller dwelling. We spent about fifteen minutes there then decided to find the pictographs (alternately called petroglyphs, but that is a misnomer). The trail pointed the way and we began the hike. We took it slow at first due to our concerns about less-oxygen-than-we-are-used-to-at-this-height and also because Mom and I both were uncertain exactly where our fears might pop up. The clouds moved in to shadow the valley and the breeze felt good as we climbed the trail. This is the kind of hiking that I love. We went over hills and rocks and squeezed through slabs of stone, and climbed through shallow draws and walked under tall trees. The views were simply breathtaking. A sense of wonder overtakes as you look out across box canyons and vast valleys and realize what it took for these people to survive here. The work and effort without any modern conveniences makes one understand the enormity of the undertaking, so to speak. Water is not readily available on the mesas or in these canyons. The stunning view cannot make up for starvation or thirst. But somehow, they established a thriving community here. They created check dams for water and used digging sticks to plant crops between the stone-scattered mesa tops. They existed without the wheel, without bow and arrows, without horses or other beasts of burden. It is an astonishing achievement when you consider this place and others like it.

The pictograph trail is marked with wooden plaques with numbers. These mark things of interest on the trail. Pa had a brochure that detailed what we should be looking at. Pa said the pictographs were #23, so we dutifully climbed over and around and through towards our goal. We stopped at each plaque to view plants, alluvial oddities and alcoves. The limestone cliffs have seeped water for centuries and this water has created small depressions and wells within the rock. Some are the size of peas, some are the size of a bathtub. What is interesting is where they are. Some are in the sides of the cliff-side, some below, some under other stones. Even the alcoves that house the dwellings are actually ancient seeps of worn away limestone. Part of the reason the people of the dwellings were able to survive was because of these small seeps, which often formed cisterns that held small amounts of water within the cliffs.

As we moved along, Pa kept encouraging us, not telling us that the trail was some three miles in length. Along about plaque #15, we met another hiker coming back. He was flushed and annoyed and had given up seeing the pictographs. In his words, “the trail went on and on!” Pardon the pun, but he was not a happy camper. Murmurs of doubt and despair arose in the Kesner/Stahel clan as we contemplated the folly of continuing. We had already been hiking for well over an hour and the film was being used at an exceedingly high rate. Photo opportunities abounded. Leslie and Richard pushed onward, leaving the rest of us, Mom, Pa and me, with no choice but to follow. Surely we were near the end! We hiked for another hour and the trail was getting much harder. More stones and less path ensured that we had to climb further upwards to our goal. Each numbered plaque was greeted with cries of triumph as we moved ever forward. About plaque #20 Mom was muttering dire threats under her breath as she shinnied up a sheer cliff face with barely there stepping stones of unsteady rock. Repeated chants of “Ken owes me for this!” were heard. I resigned myself to plodding ever forward, knowing that Mom would make Pa pay by taking us an antique store or gift shop in the near future. I was okay with that as I wanted a T-shirt that said “I survived climbing Balcony House!”

At plaque #23 there was no evidence of the pictographs. Mom and I stared in stunned dismay in every nook and cranny, but were unable to find even a bit of graffiti or anything remotely resembling ancient markings. Pa came up to us and upon hearing the dire threats that were beginning to rumble, he whipped out the brochure and took stock. The pictographs were at #24! Considering the Death Glare both Mom and I directed towards him, he should have shriveled on the spot.

With much grumbling, Mom and I pushed on, following Richard and Leslie, who had taken a break about 20 feet above us and were resting on a jut of rock overlooking the canyon.

The pictographs were worth it. At plaque #24 they were about 8 feet above the trail. We found a mountain sheep, parrots, lizards, waterbugs and other symbols whose meanings have been obscured by time and the fact that the storytellers have passed into history. All of our grumblings disappeared as we stared and contemplated that in the distant past, an artist decided to leave a piece of himself behind, perhaps knowing that ones would follow who would look at his work in the sands of forever and wonder. His works stand, ever engraved into stones as old as time. For an artist, that is enough.

We had one last tricky bit of trail and then we reached the mesa top. The walk was an easy half mile back to Far View Mesa. We laughed and joked and found more reasons to use up film. We met another young couple and took their picture with their camera. We crossed a tiny box canyon which housed ruins we couldn’t go to and then we were back in civilization.

Pa waited patiently, doing penance outside the gift shop while we women looked to our hearts’ content. Mom bought a T-shirt but alas! I couldn’t find the T-shirt I wanted. Apparently, surviving a climb up to Balcony House is no big deal around these parts where 14,000 cliffs are the norm. A mere 8,000 feet is no feat. Sigh. The weaver had not returned so I gave up trying to speak with her and went outside to wait with Pa and Richard. Leslie and Mom finished shopping and we went down the mesa back to camp. Going down doesn’t seem to bother Mom as much as going uphill. She was a lot calmer and only took a few deep breaths on a couple switchbacks.

One of the interesting things on our way down was the work being done in one section of the road to widen it and to bring down part of the mountain that was decaying. The last few fires had deteriorated the hillside and rockfalls onto the road were common. Great earth moving machines were brought in and the Park authorities were removing some of the danger. Our family has a fascination with heavy equipment, due to Pa’s propensity for those kinds of toys. We watched a great steel-studded wheeled beast push dirt, even as a large bull-dozer piled it higher and deeper.

We didn’t have supper this evening since our huge lunch pretty much filled us up. Pa pulled out his propane one-burner and made a pot of coffee when we got back to camp.
We sat around the picnic table and talked ancients, religion, politics, death and war before 9 pm, wherein we all got bundled up and went to the Ranger talk in the amphitheater. This evening’s talk was about the animals of the canyons and mesas and a little history thrown in besides. Just as the previous Ranger had done, a slide show was presented. A lot is theory and speculation concerning the history of the dwellings but we enjoyed it anyway.

We came back to camp and talked a little more but after all our hiking, everyone declared an early night and we went to bed. The temperature dropped dramatically and although I slept most of the night, the soft patter of rain woke me at one point before lulling me back to sleep.

Day Four – August 4, 2004:

Today, after showers and the pancake breakfast, we headed up to Weatherill Mesa to see The Long House. This is the largest of the cliff dwellings and we actually got to go more inside of it towards the back where the seeps were. The Ranger showed us the seeps and the ingenius system the Pueblo peoples had of collecting water. They made holes in the limestone floor with little tiny irrigation cracks leading from one to the other and then custom made clay ladles that fit each hole. One could start filling their pot at the first hole and by the time they were done filling from each miniature cistern, the first hole was full again! As I once read in a Star Trek book, “Primitive does not mean stupid!” The weather was bright and sunny today, too. We were definitely glad to be in the shade of the Pueblo! At one point I felt a little faint, but moved into the shadow of the dwelling and I was okay.

We stopped at Denny’s in Cortez to eat a late lunch, early dinner. I had the waitress fill my water bottle with ice and water for our next trek.

After our meal we took off for Four Corners. This is where four states meet – Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. The actual point is on the Ute Indian Reservation. From there, you can see Sleeping Ute Mountain from the “back” side. It is visible from our campsite (if you hike a little ways away from the valley were the camps are).

Leslie laid down on the monument that is erected and spread her arms and legs out so she’d be in all four states at once. We did a few more antics of twister-like body flexings to get ourselves into the four states and took pictures, then got out of the way so others could follow our lead.

We then proceeded over to the long line of shaded awnings where various Navajo, Zuni, Hopi and Ute artisans had spread their wares. I immediately fell in love with a stunning silver bracelet with opal inlays. I went down the entire line and went back to look at it several times until I finally bought it. For full price. I didn’t even have the heart to bargain, although I bargained for other jewelry down the line. The bracelet just called to something in me – probably “Zat: that hard-to-describe heavenly quality that reveals the Life in the Stone.” Zat is a term usually applied to turquoise. Opals always seem to appeal to me, for whatever reason, and I prefer the darker blue ones, which are in this bracelet. The silver is “carved” with feathers, blossoms, tiny beads and swirls. I wore it to bed this evening and Richard was highly amused.

Mom and Leslie bought jewelry and I also bought a modern tile-sized sand painting of a loom and partial rug woven, with Shiprock Mountain in the background and yucca plants to the side of it.

Richard dithered over a pot he liked, but decided the price was too steep and ended up not buying it.

Pa wandered in the desert behind the awnings, taking pictures of Sleeping Ute and looking over the terrain.

Day Five – August 5, 2004

After our showers and breakfast of pancakes, we went to Weatherill Mesa to do the Mesa Loop – the self-guided tour of several topside dwellings in various states of restoration cataloging the three distinct cultures and time frames of the Pueblo people who once lived here. A lively debate ensued over what the archeologists have identified as a “reservoir” and which we, in our infinite wisdom and knowledge from OTHER archeological sites in the Southwest know to be a ball-court! The shape is more circular, and the retaining wall is LOWER than the wall where the water runs in. It doesn’t make sense to think this is a reservoir, considering there is a place with steps that go down into it – and a cleared space at the top of the steps that just seems where the awnings were where the dignitaries would sit. Also – there is a “switchback” in one “corner” where the ball-players could run into the playing field in a file. I’m not an archaeologist but the “reservoir” image isn’t there for me.

We had great fun questioning other sites, checking out the kivas and the walls and the towers which Pa and Richard still insist were built for defense. Why build a tower and not use it to survey the countryside? Debate was lively in the car as we piled in.

We decided to go visit the city of Durango this afternoon.

Durango was stunningly lovely. A pine forest grew on steeply inclined cliff sides and the city was tucked in the crannies and corners of a small valley. The main street was a tourist’s dream – shop after shop of wares, some Western, some not, antiques, stained glass, and glory be! A quilt shop wherein Mom and I bought fabric, just because! We visited antique shops, jewelry stores, leather goods, and an assortment of small clothing stores offering everything from trade blankets (reproductions) to gossamer scarves and everything in between.

We headed back after closing down the last antique shop. The drive was accomplished with sparkly conversation and moments of solitude and silence as we all were tired from the hike earlier and the stores later.

Mom and Pa went to the Ranger talk this evening but Richard, Leslie and I were tired. We went to bed early and fell asleep to the soft patter of rain on the tent fly.

Day 6 – August 6, 2004

We woke early on our last day and decided to head across the border into Utah to see one last ruin Leslie had discovered on the map. Out in the middle of nowhere runs a small, not heavily visited site called Hovenweep. The name is a Paiute word for “Deserted Valley.”

There is something magical about this site.

Although the buildings are in ruins, they’ve been virtually untouched or reconstructed by later peoples, including our Park Service. A group of young conservationists were camping nearby, interning with the archaeologist in residence.

The canyon is small but apparently there were six distinct communities within it. A soft breeze was blowing which made it seem cooler.

We started at the beginning of the walk and wandered through a semi-natural pathway, probably chosen by animals first and later used by the long-gone residents of this tiny niche in the high desert. The Park Service continued the pathway, lining it with stones and in a few places fixing the path to make it more negotiable.

There are towers and kivas here, too. Looking across the small valley, one can see the towers were built for defense and observation. At each end and turn of the canyon, there is a tower. Pa and Richard spotted this strategic plan but even we who aren’t as well trained in the arts of war could see the placement was not accidental.

As we walked the ancient pathways, I could feel a sense of peace and calm blanketing the valley. Whatever collective memory or spirit lingered, I felt the people who once lived here were happy with their home and lives. The sense of a thriving community lay in the very foundations of the ruins. Long ago, this was a perfect little canyon and a happy home for those who lived here. They farmed via terraces and up on the mesa tops. There is evidence of places where springs once were, although no water flows now.

Leslie and I lagged behind for a bit and took pictures at several places. At one point, I found a natural worn place right on the cliff-top that begged to be used as seating. The beauty of it was that you could dangle your legs right off the edge while seated in this cliff “bowl.” We took pictures even as Richard and Pa were calling and waving wildly on the other side of the canyon. When we caught up with them, they said that it appeared we would fall right off the edge! We explained how the bowl was situated, but I don’t think they believed us.

As we trotted towards them to catch up – we saw a small animal, I think a squirrel or rabbit on top of one of the ruined walls of the tower. The animal watched us with lively interest but also kept watch over all he surveyed. From his vantage point, he could see the entire mesa top and the canyon below…yes, it was one of the defensive end towers.

Mom and I branched off from the others and went upwards to climb out of the canyon. Leslie, Richard and Pa decided to follow the small stream bed at the bottom of the valley. The rocky slopes were easily climbed, although I still continued to notice my out-of-shape aching muscles! Mom, on the other hand was like a mountain goat! That hour of Tae Bo she does every morning and all her walking has really toned her for a 4 mile hike up and down a canyon 8,000 feet above sea-level like she was born to it!

Much of Hovenweep is still a vast mystery to the archaeologists. I can’t seem to find the words to describe the aura of the place. There is such a sense of vast openness and yet a sense of safety, too. The distant mountains seemed protective and the very air was fresh and crisp with promises of cooler breezes. In some places vegetation was dense, in others, it was sparse. The ruins stand, silent sentinels of a long-forgotten people.

Of all the places we visited, I’d love to return here and perhaps wandered through at a slower pace and savor what once was…and is no more.

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