Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The last three days have been awe-inspiring! We've hiked throughout Mesa Verde National Park. Although the high desert mesa populated with sagebrush, scrabble Pinyon Pines and Juniper, is compelling, the history here that we can walk through, touch, and come to understand is complex and very rich. First I learned that Anasazi is not quite the correct term to use. Ancient Puebloan peoples is far more accurate, since many different cultural groups have lived in this four-state area (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona), stretching into northern Mexico, and connected by trade. The Ancestral Puebloans moved into Mesa Verde about 600-900 AD and lived here until about 1300, with many changes in architecture and lifestyle. And then they simply left Mesa Verde.

This history is so complex, I don't know where to begin. We did start with the Classic period Cliff Palace (c. 1190-1280), admired the stone masonry in this complex of 150 rooms and 23 kivas tucked under a sandstone cliff. We climbed down a 8 foot ladder into a kiva, a ceremonial underground room reconstructed for tourists to explore, complete with wooden roof. Above the kiva, its wooden roof covered over with adobe, the pueblo village life would have gone on. At the museum in the park, some of the artifacts recovered included this kiva jar, purpose unknown; I can only admire the pure lines of this beautiful piece.

I'd like to buy a book that explains the symbols and styles of these very diverse forms of pottery and basketry (actually baskets were woven before the Puebloan peoples learned how to make pottery), but I'm not sure yet which book is most "true" to what we are seeing. Perhaps this next story will tell why.

I had picked up a book on petroglyphs earlier, one written by an author well steeped in Western tradition, who explained that raised hands meant prayer. But, yesterday we hiked a 2.8 mile Pictograph Point trail, so named for the petroglyph wall that awaits after a somewhat ardous climb up rock steps and following sliprock ledges overlooking the canyon far below. We actually did climb a portion using toe holds, although these were far easier than the toeholes that appear on the two level Tower House (see photo to the left). When we reached the wall of petroglyphs, a maze of symbols greeted us. I could pick out figures with hands raised and could make some assumptions. Then I read the Petroglyph Trail Guide to find an explanation of a portion of the wall provided by four Hopi men from northwestern Arizona, back in 1942.

The line of petroglyphs they translated shows the emergence of the people from the earth (Grand Canyon) to the end of their migration, with kachinas helping them as the different clans (Eagle, Parrot, Mountain Sheep, Horned Toad) were formed. Here's a picture of the Kachina instructing the people.

I'll keep looking for a good book on how to "read" the pottery and the petroglyphs (Ha, an excuse to hit the library and used book stores). Tomorrow morning, we head south to Chaco Canyon, over a 16-mile gravel/dirt road, to further explore the Puebloan culture. Make it a good week! Beth

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Thursday and Friday we traveled to the southern part of Canyonlands National Park in Utah, the Needles District, where mountains rim the horizon like finely honed spires. Just on the spur of the moment, we ended up camping in Squaw Campground near mushroom rock formations. We saw the moon rise early, and cottontail rabbits hopped right through our campsite. In the morning (after surviving the 36 degree night), we hiked through several fascinating and short trails, stopping to admire an ancient Pueblo peoples' granary made of clay and packed right underneath a mushroom-shaped rock.

At Cave Springs Trail, we hiked over slickrock and through waist high Big Sage, as well as up two ladders, to visit red paint petroglyphs that remain near a permanent spring. Some time between 400 and 1300, the Pueblo peoples would stay here, building fires, planting and harvesting, and then, perhaps depending on the amount of rain, would stay or move on, leaving their rock art behind. We also visited Newspaper Rock nearby Canyonlands and were amazed at the complexity and number of "messages" left there that we can no longer decipher.

Several people have asked me to post travel tips so here goes!

ON-THE-ROAD TRAVEL TIP #1: Create an overnight bag for each person with 1-2 changes of clothing, robe, slippers, and a ditty bag (toiletries and medicines). This enables you to leave the big suitcases in the car and quickly settle in to your hotel room or tent.

Make it a good week! We're headed to Mesa Verde in Colorado tomorrow to visit more Puebloan (Anasazi) artifacts and ruins. Beth

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Yesterday we hiked about 5 miles through Canyonlands National Park, just 30 miles north of Moab, Utah, a park of canyons as far as the eye can see, with blue haze marking the distance. Here the distances are great, and the hikes take us along the rim of deep canyons, with drops of 1500 feet common. We're hiking in the Islands of the Sky district, to the west of the confluence of the mighty Colorado and Green Rivers. We hope to explore the Needles district tomorrow. We can't go into the Maze District; the only roads there are restricted to experienced four-wheel drivers! There, we could have visited even more ancient petroglyphs, some 4,000 years old.

We did see this coyote along the road yesterday at Canyonlands. What a intelligent looking animal, not at all afraid of cars. In fact, coyotes can beg, simulate injury or illness to motivate humans to give them food. We saw this young coyote early in the day, working the road with tourists eagerly taking pictures. We saw him again in the afternoon, looking a little tired and perhaps hungry, for the Park Service warned against feeding him. I had thought that coyotes lived in packs but found this interesting article giving a bit more background on coyotes. I learned that coyotes approach the "alpha" animal in the pack with ears lowered and tail down. This looks somewhat like the pose he took in approaching our car. Coyotes tend to travel in packs when together they can pull down a cow or deer. Because this coyote was alone, he most likely will exist on a diet of rats and chipmunks. No wonder he was scrounging food from tourists. Make it a good week. Beth

Monday, October 22, 2007

Monday morning, argh! I took way too many pictures yesterday as we hiked about 5 miles in Devils Canyon in the awesome Arches National Park. Each day we say today can't be as good as yesterday, but each day proves us wrong. I finally took a picture of the Double Arch in Arches National park (near Moab, Utah) that shows the monumental scale of these geologic formations. I've learned so many new terms -- spires, fins, columns, hoodoos, arches, bridges, balanced rocks, monoliths, rock islands. But none of these somehow communicates the awesome impact of the sizes, shapes and colors. Perhaps this picture does.

Yesterday pressed the limits again of our hiking skills, right up the spine of a rock fin, several hundred feet gain in elevation, and only an occasional cairn of stones to mark the way. But the views were rewarding, and while we didn't go completely to the end of this primitive trail, we were able to hike to the far reaches to see Navajo Arch and Partition Arch, our favorite.

Ah, what wonders in nature that seem very far from a Monday morning office. My office just now is in a cozy KOA cabin, internet access, heater chugging right along, and stunning views of the La Sal Mountains out my window. Maybe a hot breakfast later. Make it a good week! Beth

Friday, October 19, 2007

We're in Moab, Utah, just this week, dividing our time between Arches National Park and Canyonlands. Today we visited the Wolfe Ranch, a one-room log cabin built by a veteran of the Civil War. Just up the hill from this historic place was a wall of petroglyphs that scientists estimate were created sometime between 1650 and 1850. Notice in the picture how the Paiutes are mounted on horses, with bighorn sheep and a dog. The drawing is lifelike, brightly painted, and very clear. Central Plains Indians rode horseback starting with the explorations of the Spanish in the 16th Century.

What fascinated me about this set of petroglyphs is in comparing them to petroglyphs we had seen at Capitol Reef National Park. This next picture shows petroglyphs painted some time between 700 and 1300 by the Fremont people. Some consider the Fremont People to be ancestors of the Anasazi or Puebloan peoples further south. Notice how much more abstract the drawings are -- although people and animals are clearly shown. Signs say we don't know much about the meanings of these petroglyphs, although additional information on these older petroglyphs is at http://www.nps.gov/archive/care/petpull.htm as well as another article on decoding petroglyphs at http://johnpratt.com/items/docs/lds/meridian/2006/petroglyphs.html by the controversial Martineau who was raised by Paiutes after being orphaned.

The country here is so beautiful, inspiring arches, magnificent mountains, sweeping vistas, and yet the land is also harsh, arid, dry desert, and difficult to live in. These drawings in stone, along with cliff dwellings help us understand the past, even if we cannot fully reconstruct it. Just one more picture (with more to come in WebShots) to show the amazing geography here. Today we climbed a "moderately strenuous" trail to Delicate Arch, over steep slick rock with ravens swooping down. A person stands underneath the arch in this picture; check the scale. It's monumental. Whew! Make it a good week. Beth

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tuesday morning and I'm looking out the window at a desert scene, gnarled juniper, pitted lava rocks, sage brush and yellow-flowering Rabbitbrush slowly warming as morning gray is replaced by sun. I realize that I don't have to rush off to a meeting or a class and that any schedule I make is pretty much my own. At first this feeling is relaxing, exhilerating, and like a dog shaking off obligations like water, I feel free. Of course, living between our tent and hotel rooms offers a certain anonymity. Sue Monk Kidd, author of THE SECRET OF BEES, talks in an afterword about the importance of place as healing, yet what about the absence of place. Do those "things" we've collected over our lives give us our identity, a sense of connectedness, routine as peace?

The place we've lived in this last week has been eye-opening. We spent a week tenting in Zion, hiking everywhere, sometimes on truly challenging hikes, where we clung to climber's chains and looked straight down. The picture below shows our view of Zion on our last day. Park officials have shifted over to a shuttle service to handle the some 5,000 visitors a day -- the result is quiet in the canyon, although we pass each other on the trails, always polite. From our campsite, we could see a massive red mountain. Later in the week we hiked to an outcropping there to discover it had been used for grain storage by ancient peoples. High above the valley, the site was defensible, yet surrounded by unforgettable views.

We then drove over to Capitol Reef National Park, a geologist's dream. Apparently many millions of years ago (65 million), the tectonic plates of east and west met here. The resulting "crash" led to an uplift in the earth of between 4,000 to 11,000 feet and created a kind of fold in the earth's crust that is visible for about 100 miles. The rock formations here are formidable, massive, heart-stopping. We wandered through the Narrows at Grand Wash Trail to find canyons closing and then another corner, another canyon, yet narrower, massive cliffs on each side. Weather warnings told us to watch for flash floods; the evidence was everywhere -- wash outs, giant boulders dumped haphazardly, undercuts on the sides of the canyon -- and yet we saw junipers with berries, their bark so worn and twisted we wondered how they could survive. I don't see how any picture could do justice to this. The early Mormons farmed here isolated and safe; locals are a little displeased as they were displaced when Capitol Reef became a national monument. Tourism doesn't quite make up for the loss of land.

Yesterday, coming out of the canyon, we heard soft bird calls and discovered a covey of six chukkers hunting for food through the grasses, calling to each other. I stood quietly and photographed them, mystery birds until we got back to Sibley's Bird reference. Ah, birds. So these are the small pleasures of daily life, unexpectedly good coffee, a good view out my window (wherever that may be), and the chance to write. May your week go well. Beth

Saturday, October 06, 2007

We’ve just spent our third day at Bryce Canyon National Park, and today a light dusting of snow capped our last hike along Inspiration Point. As we drove to our motel, we spotted four pronghorn antelopes bedded down in the grasses for warmth. Yesterday, we hiked the famed Navajo Loop trail, through the Queen’s Garden and up to Sunrise Point, a total of 3.5 miles and a descent of 580 feet down switchbacks into a tight box canyon, with the ascent at the end of the trail an equally challenging 580 feet back up at roughly 10,000 feet elevation. But along the way, what vistas! Those hoodoos, shaped over 10 million years of erosion, really pillars of rock colored by mineral content to gold, white or iron rich red, dazzle the eyes. Everywhere we look, these fantastic shapes invite photographs. Check Webshots (see link at the right) to see a few.

According to the Park Service, people have lived in this valley about 12,000 years. The Paiutes say the hoodoos are ancient peoples (perhaps Pueblo or Fremont) turned to stone by Coyote. Sometimes I can see faces in the stones, but mostly I am in awe at the grand architecture of this place that no photo can capture. The play of light, the range of color, and the sweep of intricate formations constantly change. Snow and rain freeze and then thaw, with runoff leading to new fantastic shapes, while tall pine trees compete for space, growing somehow in marginal spaces.

We are adjusting very well to being on the road, although gusts of wind up to 60 pushed us into a lovely motel, Bybee’s Steppingstone in the nearby town of Tropic, complete with quilts, satellite TV, and some access to internet. Allen has been enjoying baseball playoffs as well as college football. We have now invested in sturdy tent stakes and are hoping the lower elevation and calmer weather at Zion will lead us back to camping. We're seeing more RVs and mini-vans everywhere; what a different way of life. I miss family and friends, maybe work, certainly my books and computer, but each day is such an adventure. Experiencing these parks is humbling in a way with such a profusion of natural beauty. We have had so many days in which I thought this surely will be the ultimate highlight of our trip. And then another day comes along with experiences so amazing, that they eclipse what has gone before. May your days be as bright. Beth

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

This last week has been spent in Spokane, visiting with Rachel and Nick for Rachel's birthday (see Mario the cat at the birthday party), and repacking for our now 8-month trip through the rest of the United States, starting with Nevada and the Great Basin National Park. Tonight our tent is pitched on a grassy lot with trees nearby. We can see a desert landscape and the beginnings of the Rockies with a dusting of snow. We fixed the tent in Spokane with a wonderful welder who spent about an hour firing up much complicated equipment (and he recorded the tent pole

The land around Ely is a sweeping barren vista of sagebrush, occasional cows, and mountains. In town, buildings from the 1930s and 1940s are overlaid with Las-Vegas-like casino lights. Cowboys, hunters, and lots of trucks complete the scene. And I almost forgot to mention that everywhere we see RV's, mobile homes (big ones!), and snowbirds heading south. We were told to look for circles of light in the desert as the RV's gather round camp fires, but this may be an urban legend. That's it for tonight. The stars are coming out, and all is well. May it be so for you and yours. Beth