|There is no better time to tour the American|
Southwest than Fall and Spring when the days
are comfortable and the nights cool enough
The Navajo who have long inhabited this rugged country say it is "the land of room and time enough." Some inventive Chamber of Commerce people named it Four Corners after the spot where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona come together. Geologists simply refer to it as the Colorado Plateau.
Whatever its title, this place of long horizons, rocky cliffs, hot sand, and thorny plants claims an unusual treasure: strewn across its many mesa tops and tucked inside its innumerable alcoves are hundreds of crumbling cities--sandstone wonders that are but the skeletal remains of an ancient civilization that rose, flourished, and then disappeared.
This is the land of the Anasazi. The Ancient Ones. A plateau people who walked softly across the land, going from the nomadic life of hunters and gatherers to the sedentary ways of farmers, artisans, and basketmakers. They were an inventive and adaptable people who devised intricate irrigation systems, coaxed vegetables out of desert sand, and wove baskets so tightly that even today they will still retain water.
But most of all they were builders in stone, laying down on plateau bedrock self-contained worlds that clustered close around rivers and streams. But they were never to last. In the end, the Anasazi mysteriously abandoned their homes, leaving them to the capriciousness of desert winds, parching sun, freezing winters, and the ghosts--silent sentinels who still walk among the rocks, keeping vigil over the great ruined cities.
The mesa top homes and cliffside dwellings have weathered well. Many are so finely preserved it seems their inhabitants have only just stepped out and will return momentarily. Others fall back into the earth from which they came, as hauntingly beautiful in death as ever they must have been in life.
Some are easily accessible; others require long, dusty rides over washboard roads. But all are unique and en masse they constitute the greatest collection of prehistoric archaeological sites in North America. Rich is the one who follows the trail of the Ancients, moving back through the years to savor the character of a people who in their own short time cast a giant footprint across the land.
Some of the ruins are self-guiding; others accessible only in the company of a park ranger. The cliff dwellings themselves are spectacular, though getting to them in often entails climbing down ladders bolted to sheer cliffs, squeezing through narrow paths hewn in solid rock, and crawling on hands and knees through slim-cut tunnels. Those not so ambitious can enjoy the mesa top ruins. The park is open year around and provides full services from May through mid-October.
|The Ancients carved images on rocks and|
the petroglyphs are just about everywhere
you look. Some say they are maps, some
claim they tell of good hunting grounds. The
fact is, no one knows for sure. Defacing
them is a crime.
Although Anasazi villages stretched north to Glen Canyon and Canyonlands, west to Zion and Grand Canyon, and south to Petrified Forest, the Ancients were not the only prehistoric culture that walked the beige sands of the semi-arid Southwest. To the north were the Fremonts; to the south, the Sinagua. Southeast lived the Cohonino; southwest the Mogollon and Hohokam. Each culture followed much the same path as the Anasazi and whatever the reason or reasons, all began abandoning their villages about the same time, with most being completely deserted by A. D. 1300.
The dry, desert climate has itself acted as the preservative--saving for all generations a time-warp into yesteryear. Thousands of prehistoric Indian ruins dot the Four Corners states. Most are under the guardianship of the National Park Service and while every adult I know will enjoy the ruins, nobody has as much fun as the kids. My own kids loved visiting the ruins; my granddaughter, at age 7, just plain stood in shock with unbelieving eyes as she caught her first view of Montezuma's Castle in Arizona. The fun for me was always watching them take it all in, knowing they'd never before seen anything like it. I still remember my granddaughter standing speechless, mouth agape, and finally asking "Grandma, how did they get into their houses? They built them so far off the ground."