Ranger Kathryn's Arches

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.

March 12, 2010

Mesa Verde, CO, in spring snows

ladder into a kiva at Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde; dust in air

Do you ever wonder about the people who lived in your area before you did? Waaaay before you did? The Colorado Plateau — which is parts of AZ, NM, CO, and UT — contain many evidences of early inhabitants. Rock art depicts many symbols of the people who lived here. Sometimes granaries (for storage of their crops) were built into alcoves or on mesa tops. If you have eyes to see, lots of telltale clues inform us of people living here before us.

masonry dwellings at Spruce Tree House

The pinnacle, however, seems to be when we discover their dwellings. In 1888, some cowboys were chasing down their errant cattle for a round-up, and rode into the deep canyons containing Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings. They could not believe their eyes. It was such an incredible discovery that it took only 18 years to become a national monument. It is now a World Heritage Site, on a par with Egypt’s pyramids.

Square Tower, four stories, 26 ft, tallest structure of the ruins

These ruins are all 13th-century masonry construction, datable via dendrochronology (studying tree rings in roof timbers). The trees in the area seemed to quit growing around 1276; it is presumed that a long  and terrible drought (24 years’ worth) precipitated their abandoning these marvelous structures, which have stood for over seven centuries. My preferred way of looking upon ancient homes is to imagine the lives of the people who lived there. How did they stay warm in the winters? Who planted the crops? Did the girls laugh about the boy next door as they ground the corn? Where did they learn to weave, or to create clay pots? Who helped in childbirth? Was there anything resembling a school? How many generations shared a room?

snow, and lots of it, dominated the high elevations along the 20 miles of entrance road

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