Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 28, 2012

Target Ruin, you move me!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:00 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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 25, 2012

Shards, shards, shards

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:52 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Black-on-White pottery shards at San Juan County, Utah, ruin site.
Note that some have painted rims.

Tingling with excitement, I traced the faint path toward a red rock outcrop. On all sides, evidence of ancient occupancy lay exposed. Old masonry walls, now reduced to heaps of rubble overgrown with grass, rose from the hillside in silent testimony to the ancestral Puebloans who lived here. A Rock Wren serenaded our quiet traverse, much as I envision Rock Wrens of the 13th century may have done by some other name. At my feet were pottery shards of every imaginable design; I felt like a kid in a candy shop, stooping, picking up, rubbing the dirt off, and replacing. An involuntary gasp would escape when I found a particularly bright or unusual bit, colors fresh, edges sharp. It is impossible for me to hold a piece of an old bowl and not ask myself questions about its owner.

Corrugated ware, a more durable everyday ceramic, was used for cooking. It was made by coiling thin snakes of clay, pressing them together with an antler, and polishing the inside with a smooth stone.

In my dreams, I am wandering in awe and wonder at a site and find an intact artifact. Of course, the likelihood of that happening is nil, as every one of these areas has been looted by pot-hunters. I’d settle for finding a vessel in pieces that could  be jigsaw-puzzled back together. Even that won’t happen. I was sincerely overjoyed this day to put my boot down on the ground and have to watch where I was walking; the density of shards was breathtaking. (See smallest photo.)

Untouched dense scatter of potshards with my boot for scale.

Archaeological note: I collected pieces for these photographs but released them all back to their resting places. Two were particularly dear and hard to let go, but I found special places to hide them so they wouldn’t be trampled by others who find their way to this obscure hilltop location where ancestors eked out their living 800 years ago.

February 3, 2012

Jay Canyon 1: Approach

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:46 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Sinuous canyons lead to exciting discoveries. Grand County, Utah.

The snow was stopping, so we layered up and drove south of town along the Colorado River. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse: Tara was taking me to a ruin site she had visited, promising me a granary photo op as my reward.

Feathered spies — pinyon jays — laughed overhead, flashes of bright blue enlivening the otherwise muted desert palette. They are the town criers, alerting the world to our presence. We don’t mind. Nobody else is out here today.

We made our way up ledges, around cliffs, across the mesa bench and up sandy washes until we arrived at an alcove whose neighborhood was graced with an abundance of large trees and huge dead trunks. In our habitat, this is an indicator of reliable water supply; two major pour-offs and a seep/hanging garden corroborated this hunch. One majestic cottonwood, a species found only where its feet can be perennially wet, stood as undeniable confirmation.

Up, up we climbed. My heart beats faster, and my senses get sharper, approaching a ruin site; it is always more than meets the eye. A small thickly-mortared granary was perched prominently on a van-sized boulder.  Letting my imagination go where it would, it went, predictably, to the people who had built this structure perhaps 800 years ago.

I drew near with awe and curiosity and delight.

~~ To be continued ~~ at this post

Blog at WordPress.com.