Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 19, 2012

Keet Seel 2: arrival at the ruin

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:08 pm
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The ruin is so intact that I have no difficulty imagining its occupants in their daily lives. Just look at that beautiful street!

(continued from Keet Seel 1: the trek begins)

The ability to sense when you’re getting close to your destination helps when you’re bone-weary, which we three were. Ascending the final hill to the primitive campground, we found an open site and dropped our packs. Ground-cloths were spread and late lunch happened. The lure of horizontality couldn’t be overcome; we rested under the oaks in sight of our prize — Keet Seel Ruin.

If you’ve never seen a huge sandstone alcove, it’s difficult to comprehend the feel of the space. Organic, protective, curvaceous, smooth, empty, inviting — the ancestral people felt its attraction. When one of these magnificent spaces is filled from end to end with a village, my heart and mind are electrified with connection.

Polychrome pottery fragments — such lovely colors are mixed in among more common black-on-white shards.

Approaching the ruin with quietness and respect, we met Bill, a park ranger of Navajo descent. He guides only five people at a time through the 13th-century cliff dwelling, after the approach past thousands of breathtaking pottery shards and a climb up a five-story ladder. “Broken pottery scattered around” is Keet Seel’s rough translation in Navajo. I gasped at the quantity and size of the pieces and scrambled up to enter the ruin.

The ladder is not for the faint of heart. Ancestral people used less sturdy ladders, and sometimes moki steps (footholds and handholds) carved into the rock.

A masonry retaining wall running the length of the alcove presents a strong visual boundary; behind and upon it the people laid out three streets. Streets! Places of commerce, greeting, gathering, moving about, exchanging conversations — I’d never seen such streets in a ruin before. This, however, is no ordinary ruin.

~~ to be continued ~~

March 28, 2012

Target Ruin, you move me!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:00 am
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This handsome ruin site held multiple families in the 13th century.
Its floor is a couple stories off the ground, accessible only by ladder (long gone).

Hidden in the canyons of San Juan County, Utah, lie countless ruin sites that have stolen my heart. This day Sam took me to a new one; I promptly fell in love with the neighborhood and felt that I could be very much at home here. The long ladder is missing, though; while I relish the ambience, I’d have trouble ascending. I may have to abandon my plans to move in.

These unusual incised glyphs are new to me.

Certainly it is one of the prettiest sites I’ve seen in a long time. On close inspection, what stands out to me after eight centuries is the “humanness” of the place. Painted handprints, geometric petroglyphs, ground-out ladder supports, sooty ceilings, pleasing views — all speak of the inhabitants who built it.

Fifty years ago a paragraph was written about magnificent Cliff House at Mesa Verde National Park. The author makes an emotional connection that has helped me experience all ancient sites in a new way:

“Unfortunate indeed, is he who views this ancient city and sees only the towering walls. Unfortunate because the stones are the least important part. [The ruin] is really built on the hopes and desires, the joys and the sorrows of the industrious people. It is not a cold empty city, for it’s still warm with the emotions of its builders. In each fingerprint and tool mark lies the prayers of a young couple for a home filled with children and happiness. Each storage bin is chinked with a farmer’s prayers for a bountiful harvest. In each plastered kiva wall is an ancient priest’s reverence for his gods. A pot is not just a piece of baked clay: it is an ancient potter’s molded prayer for beauty and strength. Each solid wall is a testimony of the success; each shattered human bone, each broken jar, is an admission of defeat.”

— Don Watson, The Indians of the Mesa Verde

Hopelessly captivated by the resilience and resourcefulness of ancient dwellers, I look forward to future explorations. It’s one thing to see displays in a museum; another entirely to encounter these places in the real world, where each of my senses adds further understanding, providing the ‘gestalt’ instead of isolated bits. It’s wonderful, and sweet, and rich beyond telling.

Using dendrochronology, scientists can date the cutting of these logs. The tree rings are distinctive enough that highly accurate dates can be obtained. I don't have a number for this batch yet.

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