Ranger Kathryn's Arches

July 11, 2012

Keet Seel 6: the walk out

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:48 pm
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Early morning light reflects my hiking partners in Tsegi Canyon.
Our steady gait will get us to the finish of our Keet Seel adventure by noon.

Pre-dawn rustlings in camp signaled everyone’s eagerness to hit the trail before the sun warmed things up. Feet wiggled into boots. Bagels with peanut butter satisfied stomachs, fueling another 8.5 mile hike before climbing the switchbacks out of the canyon. We’re traveling lighter now: less food, less water, more joy. (Joy, you must know, subtracts weight from backpacks.) Tired hips and shoulders and feet from yesterday were doing fine after a night of so-called ‘rest.’ We set out southward.

As each mile marker came into sight and faded behind us, our packs became simply an extension of ourselves, tightly strapped to our able bodies; at some point I ceased noticing mine. Several waterfalls burbled, singing to us of the millennium of habitation here. Two ravens overhead, mated for life, reminded me of the power of relationship. Algae-covered rocks spoke of the perennial stream’s life-giving presence. Before we knew it, the base of the switchbacks and my two liters of cached water appeared. We forced ourselves to drink, knowing what lay ahead.

Like rabbits scurrying from shrub to shrub, we hastened from one spot of shade to the next during our thousand-foot ascent. And then we were out. Done. Celebrating the completion of a much-dreamed-of adventure to explore a long-absent culture in another state. Learning, in the process, what we’re made of, and why we undertake such crazy things: for the sheer delight of discovery, connection, exploration.

Good-bye, Keet Seel. Your walls, streets, pottery, and art will always resound in my soul.

June 27, 2012

Keet Seel 5: a sleepless night

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 2:00 pm
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Having thoroughly explored the ruin with Ranger Bill, our awe and wonder were at a peak. The slow trudge back to the campground allowed us to compare notes; impacts on us were profound. Exhausted by what we’d done, humbled by what we’d seen, rest and food and sleep were all we wanted. I vaguely remember quinoa and yummy sauce, raw veggies, lots of water to rehydrate, and crawling into our sleeping bags just after sunset in anticipation of a pre-dawn hike out.

I couldn’t sleep. Sleep is for darkness. My mind was churning with the history of these people, the artifacts they left behind, the stories surrounding every room block and metate and pottery shard. Late that night as the moon began to rise, my body eventually came to terms with the lumpy soil beneath me and the open sky above me, and I dozed lightly on my tarp until after midnight.

Google image of Mexican Spotted Owl, same species as hooted at me in Tsegi Canyon.

Hoo-hoo, hoooo. My eyes flew open. A crow-sized bird sailed silently over me, his silhouette visible against the stars. Hoo-hoo, hoooo. Again. Strong, resonant. I knew what this was — an owl I’ve been hoping to see for three years. A threatened species, with only 2100 individuals remaining in the United States. And here, in this remote canyon in Arizona, a lone Mexican Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) woke me up to give me the delight of hearing its voice. I was beside myself with joy.

June 25, 2012

Keet Seel 4: ancient architects

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:32 am
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Keet Seel ruin is perched atop a ledge five stories above the canyon floor.
Only the northern part is visible in this photo.

Keet Seel is OLD; pottery shards and tree-ring dating show evidence of occupancy since 950 A.D. Those early houses are gone, but a few timbers were re-used in the subsequent village. In 1272 the ancestral Puebloans deemed this rich wet canyon suitable for a massive building project. At its height, 150 residents occupied the glorious alcove — likely from two different language groups, unable to understand each other but sharing an intimate neighborhood.

The care and artistry with which the village is laid into the rock space reflects the ancestral Puebloans’ ability to meld form and function. The alcove and its structures are inextricably unified, sandstone on sandstone, masonry on aeolian dunes, seamless. Ancient architects hung buildings on the bones of rock, suspended on slopes, fixed in place by unseen forces.

Keet Seel ruin is full of life and mystery.

June 21, 2012

Keet Seel 3: real people

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:31 pm
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(continued from Keet Seel 2: arrival at the ruin)

An everyday cooking vessel sits silently in the ruin.

In every direction, my eyes land on evidence of the ancestral Puebloans’ occupancy — at times so fresh, so present, that it is as if these people just picked up and left recently.

Ancient corn cobs fill the stone depressions that may have served as part of the grinding process.

Ancient shrunken corn cobs fill stone depressions which were likely used for knocking the kernels off to be ground; I can see the womenfolk hard at their task with metates and manos. A shapely vessel adorns the top of one wall, recovered in pieces and cemented back together; I can see girls filling it with water. Down in the kiva, fiber loom anchors are attached to the floor; I hear the men gathered there, weaving blankets, talking about their latest hunting escapades.

Hollow pottery handle from a dipper or ladle adds intrigue.

A broken dipper handle, hollow, hallowed, sits upon a pile of stones; thirsty children drink from the spring. And, in one darkened room block, our camera flash reveals distinct painted handprints on the wall — intimate touch of its residents 750 years ago. Rough-hewn beam ends, ceiling timbers shaped by stone ax, project from rock walls. Pottery shards everywhere speak of the artistry and aesthetics of this culture.

 ~~ to be continued ~~

Every shard reflects the artistry of its maker. They covered the ground underfoot.

One can see the ax marks on this beam. Dendrochronologists can tell in what year it was felled by comparing it to known tree ring patterns.

Black and yellow paint highlight hands of the original residents. The yellow pigment was blown through a straw-like reed to make the negative print.

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 ~~

April 7, 2012

Navajo National Monument

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:26 am
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The alcoves in this deep canyon hold ancient villages. Douglas Fir and aspen populate the shaded areas -- not your typical Arizona desert trees.

Tucked away in deep canyons in the northern Arizona desert, ruined villages of ancestral Puebloans lie vacated — but not empty. After all the hubbub of our day in Antelope Canyon, Tara and I wanted to find a place to lay our heads that was quiet and restful.  Ninety minutes’ drive brought us at sunset to a small jewel of a National Monument that filled the bill. Delightedly, we found that there was no entrance fee for this lovely place.

The campground occupies a pinyoned knoll — all quiet and, much to our surprise, also free. The tent went up in minutes. Leaving the rain fly off ensured that we’d see lots of stars from our 7300-foot perch. After a cup of mint tea, we burrowed into our sleeping bags and studied all our park literature by headlamp before drifting off. I dreamed of kivas and potshards.

Friday dawned cool and clear and full of promise. The park brochure described FREE (!!!) ranger-led half-day tours to the Betatakin ruins, an exciting offer to two archaeology-oriented visitors with tons of questions. Alas… full staffing begins May 27 this year, and tours won’t be available until then. (Chapter 133 of “Budget issues create disappointment.”)

To take the sting away, we perused every incredible artifact in the visitor center’s displays and worked with the ranger to plan our return for the 17-mile overnight backpacking hike to Keet Seel. This best-preserved ruin requires permits (20/day maximum); a ranger actually lives out at the ruin site for a week straight in order to conduct guided visits. MY KIND OF TRIP.

Three short overlook hikes whetted our appetites for what will come. The ancestral people built stunning masonry villages in picturesque alcoves, which shall be thoroughly explored under our own power this summer.

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