Friday, November 30, 2007

We left Tucson with a sigh yesterday, fond goodbyes to relatives (Wynn and Alfredo), one early trip to the airport to drop friends off (Gordy and Lynda), and continued appreciation for the warm weather here in Arizona, hovering around 70. Within one week, we cooked and baked and cleaned and toiled with amazing results: Alfredo's unforgettable Turkey and oyster stuffing, cornbread stuffing, garlic-mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and the rest fades into oblivion before the pies, Wynn's fabulous cookies, and the conversations between football games. The table groaned and so did our tummies before we finished with justice to all. I think we left a pie behind in our little bed and breakfast, but I knew some cookies made it to the airport for Gordy and Lynda's trip to Philadelphia.

Within one short week in Tucson, we experienced Thanksgiving, and visits to the University of Arizona's Center for Creative Photography, the Arizona State Museum, the Arizona Zoo (see the lion's reaction to Thanksgiving), Fourth Street, the Heard Museum, the Amerind Archaeological Museum, Tohono Chul, the Sonora Desert Museum, the mission chuch at San Xavier del Bac, and Fourth Street. I found mermaids everywhere in every time, including an outrageous mermaid costume at a thrift store on Fourth Street (don't worry; it stayed there).

We're back now with good internet connections. Thursday, last night, my computer was tied up with the streaming live Packers vs. Cowboys so graciously provided by Sprint via internet. We laughed, we cried, and we finally, finally slept. This morning we leave for Carlsbad Caverns. It's raining off and on, a perfect day for hiking into the bowels of the earth. May it be a good week for you all! Beth

Friday, November 16, 2007

On Thursday, we tackled the freeways of Phoenix where people routinely drive at 70 miles per hour to visit the Heard Musuem's collection of native art. The exhibits were fascinating, pairing ancestral Pueblan pieces with pottery from the turn of the century with more contemporary pottery.

For the first time, we learned of the Pueblo Revolt. When the Spanish came to the southwest in 1540, approximately 40,000 to 50,000 Puebloan peoples lived in 80-100 separate communities; by 1696, about 14,000 lived in 22 communities. As in other areas in North and South America, European diseases took a heavy toll as did forced labor. Religious conversion was a primary goal of the conquistadors; natives risked charges of witchcraft and burnings at the stake if they followed their own religions. In 1680, the Puebloans revolted, driving the Spanish from their homelands, a rebellion that lasted 12 years, until the Spanish restored "order" in 1692.

Another interactive exhibit documented the U.S. attempt through the 1960s to assimilate the Pueblo peoples by forcibly removing children to dormitory schools where they were not allowed to speak their native language or practice their beliefs. In some ways, this makes the survival of Puebloan culture more important, for through the pottery, weaving, and silverwork, and through conscious efforts to preserve and protect designs, techniques and materials, the Puebloan people are retaining and strengthening their culture.

After walking our feet off, we relaxed in the museum patio cafe, enjoying pozole and cool water as we sat under the ironwood trees. On reflection, my favorite pieces from the museum were those that compared several generations of work on the same theme. Birds, parrots from Mexico, decorated great communal bread and stew bowls; the butterfly bowl above is dated 1976.

Allen was fascinated by a mug decorated with a snake pattern; the potter put small stones in the base of the mug to simulate the rattlesnake's rattles. These three mugs (about 1300) show differences in Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde pottery. We also studied a seasonal map showing the cycle of Katsina dancers and spirit guides to help us understand the complexity of beliefs and how they shaped the Hopi communities. Allen likes Mudhead, while I'm drawn to Crow Mother and Blue Corn Maiden.

And in the very last room, when we were tired and feeling we could learn no more, we found this clay mermaid from Mexico, which fits right into the stories I'm working on.

Then, last night, desert thunderstorms, lightening crackled across the sky in great bolts. This morning, sunshine, clean, clear air, and we're headed back into Phoenix to go to a petroglyph musuem. Make it a great day! Beth

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The sun is shining. Weather about 85 degrees today. Last night we went swimming at 8 pm and eased our feet in a hot tub after a day's walk around the Boyce hompson Arboretum. We're in the suburbs of Phoenix, back in the big city, and today hope to visit the Heard Museum to investigate Puebloan culture.

On our way here, we stopped at the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, a fascinating walk through geologic time clear back to the Turassic (sounds like Jurassic and is about that far back, counting in millions of years). Once this inland desert was part of a great sea with trees several hundred feet high. A volcano exploded, these immense trees were knocked down, creating a logjam and a great lake. Then the dam broke, all these trees were washed away and covered with sediment and more volcanic eruptions. The whole mess just settled down deeper and deeper, with greater pressure, and then minerals began to seep through the decaying trees, petrifying them.

The results are miles of petrified trees scattered over a desert landscape, their colors glowing green, purple, white and gold, attesting to the high mineral content. Of course, people have been carting chips and chunks off even before this park was approved in the early 1900s, but enough remains to thoroughly enjoy. Even now, park officials estimate they lose about one ton a month from people who just want a little rock to take home. But they are beautiful. Equally beautiful are the badlands here (see photo of Blue Mesa badlands above), heavily eroded sandstone hills that once outlaws hid in.

Local color? Yes, we saw an authentic roadrunner just before leaving the park. Another memorable day. Make it a good week wherever you are, despite rain and snow and . . . I think I may want to be a snowbird when I grow up. Beth

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Grand Canyon. Breathtaking vistas. We hiked along the rim trail for about 4.5 miles, encountering hundreds of people. T'was a smoggy day, perhaps from Southern California fires; the canyon below in purple, pink and gold, seemed almost other-worldly. Bright Angel's trail, a drop of about 7,000 feet to the canyon floor, in a maze of switchbacks, drew us, but our feet, bodies and finally minds, said no.

We wandered into the Hopi House, ducking our heads to enter this trading post originally designed by Mary Colter in 1905 to sell Navajo crafts. We found it unchanged, three story traditional adobe brick construction with mud-plastered walls. Even the roof retains a traditional cribbed log design. A few old showcases highlight Puebloan pottery and jewelry, but most of the store is crammed with tourists, beautiful and expensive pottery, weaving, and jewelry.

Many lodges and hotels dot the Grand Canyon's rim today, thanks to Frank Harvey, an English immigrant who partnered with the Sante Fe Railroad to upgrade services and attract tourists to the Southwest. Here begins the saga of the Harvey Girls, thousands of young women hired as waitresses who came West to work, with most of them marrying and settling down. The Bright Angel Lodge has a neat little room with momentos (china, uniforms, photographs) of this turn of the century era.

We also wandered into the Cameron Trading Post where we learned about the difference between Hopi and Navajo kachinas. Originally, Hopi dancers, in full mask and costume, would dance through villages according to the season or to instruct the tribe. Small "dolls" called kachinas were given to the children. Today, those kachina dolls are highly prized. According to our spokesperson, the Hopi kachinas are authentic, carved from cottonwood, and embued with religious significance. The Navajo kachinas are dramatic and designed more for storytelling and tourism. We saw a lovely Hopi Cornmaiden kachina ($800). Phew! Look and don't touch! But for many, these kachinas are an introduction to Hopi beliefs and an understanding of these masked kachinas.

One last tidbit. The ancestral Puebloan people used stones called manos (Spanish for hand) and metates, a flat slab of a stone, used as a mortar and pestle to grind corn to cornmeal. We saw several of these at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, and here on display at the Grand Canyon. The corn was ground to cornmeal in a kind of communal activity, 2 or 3 women working together. What surprised me is that these women spent 2-4 hours a day, grinding corn, and actually wore the stones down. These manos and metates lasted about one month. The resulting cornmeal had a signficant amount of sand-sized stone in it that worked equally powerfully on the teeth, grinding them down to stubs. Perhaps a dentist would find this a paradise, but I think of nerve pain and say "Ouch!" Make it a good week! Beth

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tuesday morning, we're truly in Arizona now, and I'm feeling sated after a scrumptious breakfast at Hampton Inn, complete with the best hot coffee in weeks, fresh fruit, yogurt, and biscuit. Today, we are headed to the south rim of Grand Canyon, a first for me, and a chance to explore some of the cultural history of this great hole in the ground.

Yesterday might be considered an "off day", though we visited the stunningly beautiful Monument Valley, a Navajo Tribal lands park. North Window, seen above, seems to float above the desert floor; we drove along these massive buttes along a winding dirt and gravel road. Can you see the car in the picture to the right? The road was the greatest challenge facing us; most people elected to drive a jeep with four-wheel drive or take a tour. We drove our little Toyota right along this 17-mile challenge. Signs said we could drive at 15 mph; but unexpectedly big potholes, rocks, and shifting surfaces meant we crawled along at 5 mph most of the way. But, the views and monumental buttes were worth every moment of heart-stopping maneuvering past what we called "craters of Monument Valley".

People have been friendly everywhere. Last night's dinner at the Navajo-run Blue Coffeepot included fry-bread with honey, somewhat like a flatbread, puffy like the lightest doughnut. Ah, traditional foods, with Thanksgiving just a few weeks away now. May the week go well for you. Beth

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sunday morning. We are back in the land of cell phone and internet connections after camping in Chaco Canyon (last night a mere 28 degrees), an unforgettable experience. Our tent backed up against massive boulders; when the sun came up, the temperature immediately jumped 20 degrees. Canyon Towhees hopped around camp as if we would feed them, but all is protected here, ruins, animals, even the ground we walk upon. In fact, Chaco Canyon is a sacred place, made nearly inaccessible by the heavily washboarded gravel road of 16 miles (rangers want the road to stay as is as they live in Chaco Canyon or drive government cars; workers prefer a paved road, given their experience of rattle-me-bones rides and break-downs in private cars).

Chaco Canyon resonates in the imagination. We continued our study of Puebloan peoples, hiked along Petroglyph Trail and the challenging Pueblo Alto canyon rim trail to the Pueblo Alto complex (4.5 miles). Imagine a stone trail straight up. Ancient Puebloans climbed to the tops of the mesa using toe and hand holds. We clambered over large stones, slowly, at every step thanking any spirit who listened for our walking sticks. No one can explain with any certainty what motivated these peoples, why they came and why about 1100-1200, they simply left. Over 150 great houses were built here, complete with many circular underground rooms (kivas), used primarily (archaeologists say) for ceremony, prayer and community meetings. Most of the hundreds of rooms in the great houses do not show evidence they were lived in, though hundreds of thousands of hours of work went into building these massive stone building complexes, perhaps somewhat like our urban areas, where people live in one place and work and pray in others.

The researchers know quite a bit about what materials were used, when buildings were built, and they are beginning to understand how the buildings were connected in some larger patterns. Astroarcheologists discovered three great stones at the very top of Fajada Butte (see picture at top of this entry) that cast sunlight onto a stone circle carved on the cliff face in such a way as to predict the winter and summer solstice accurately. Fajada Butte is now closed, though, as the added weight of people visiting this site (primarily researchers) compacted the soil, leading to erosion. The three great stones settled, throwing off how that splinter of light that crossed the stone circle, after so many hundreds of years, no longer a predictor of the solstices.

Hiking along the Pueblo Alto Canyon Rim trail, we were able to see Pueblo Bonito from above, its half circle architecture setting a pattern for all of the great houses in the canyon and beyond. This is the oldest great house (850 to 1150), oriented to the sun, the moon, the sacred mountains and mesas, and to other shrines and great houses throughout this region. The photo I took doesn't do justice to the scale of this Great House, comprised of over 100 ground-floor and upper-story rooms with between 3-5 kivas in its first phase of construction (850-950). Even the ways the walls were constructed is fascinating, finely shaped bricks chipped from stone, arranged in beautiful patterns at times, covered with a mud plaster veneer and painted, though the paint and designs are long washed away. What remains are the bricks. Any wall is made of two outer walls of carefully shaped stones; inside the two walls is a "fill" of mud and sandstone rocks roughly shaped into bricks. And the great plaza all encircled with protective walls.

Also along the Pueblo Alto rim trail, we saw the famous hand and toe holds ancient Puebloans used to climb to the mesa top, and a very old stone circle high on the mesa top overlooking the canyon floor, about 20 feet in diameter, used for ceremony. Offerings of turquoise were sometimes left in small hand-sized round polished holes cut out of the sandstone. And then we saw petroglyphs which have only partial descriptions in guidebooks. Our favorite petroglyph, 35 feet high above the Petroglyph trail, and thankfully free of conemporary graffiti, shows a human/supernatural figure, a mountain goat and a Katsina mask.

Which brings me to muggles. We saw muggles in Chaco Canyon. Despite clear signs posted everywhere that these sites should be treated as sacred, people touched or sat on kiva walls, spoke loudly, and hiked off trail. The worst muggles we saw let dogs loose in Casa Rinconada. The first we knew, three large dogs were chasing a rabbit right through this Great House site and up the side of the mesa wall, despite signs that said no pets. Even the earliest researchers were unwittingly muggles as they burned kiva ladders for firewood in the cold mesa back in the 1900s. So I have sympathy for the rangers who advocate keeping that gravel road as a deterrent to too many visitors and those who insist on covering up these ruins to protect them. No excavations are planned; today, researchers use a kind of technology that allows them to analyze the contents under the soil without digging.

The films about Chaco Canyon were useful; one summarized archaeological finds, the other focused on the Native American view of Chaco. A good first introduction to Chaco could be People of Chaco by Kendrick Frazier. Chaco Canyon can be romanticized, but what remains for me is a sense of the beauty of this place; it marks history, philosophy, architecture, and rich spiritual beliefs (even if we cannot decipher them) of an ancient people. The site is still revered as being the ancestors of many native peoples in the Southwest, starting with the Navajo. And so it should be.

Today we head for Four Corners and then to Monument Valley. May the week be a good one for you. Beth