Saturday, July 02, 2011

Ancient places

Once, when I was a child, my parents took us to visit Mesa Verde, the ancient pueblo cliff dwellings in southern Colorado. We walked down the trail to these dwellings and learned that these structures were build some 800 years ago and inhabited by people who farmed the mesas and hunted. We saw where they stored food and gathered as a community. We saw where the dead were buried in deep holes and even saw a mummified corpse taken from one of the burial pits. As a child I was overcome by fear and horror and a feeling of darkness as I realized that these had been people, like me, who had lived and died in this warren of tiny rooms carved into the side of a cliff. Perhaps I was an overly morbid kid, but it took me a couple days to shake off the creepiness.

Years later, Ray and I, before our children were born, spent a summer in Europe. We walked through the Coliseum in Rome and the ruins of the Roman Senate. As I picked my way among the decaying bits of former columns and building blocks it occurred to me that these architectural fragments were becoming earth, even as we watched, just as those ancients who built them had long since returned to the earth. Just as we, too, would go back to the earth in time. And rather than horror or fear, I felt I had discovered some small truth about our connectedness and how truly humans, and all they create, really are simply a part of the earth, the universe, the natural plan.

On our recent trip we saw a part of our country that has been inhabited by native peoples for thousands of years.
pictographs at Arches National Park

800 year old Pueblo ruins at Aztec, New Mexico. Spanish explorers in the 17th century mistakenly believed these were Aztec ruins, thus the name. The stonework here is amazing.
I found the restoration of the great Kiva very interesting. A large assembly hall. We can only guess at what kinds of activities occurred here and what the uses for the interesting structures were.

In northern Arizona we saw Anasazi cliff dwellings at the spectacular Canyon de Chelly. I cannot fathom how they negotiated those cliffs, but what an amazing setting.
The magnified view

The big picture. Dwellings, above, are in the center of this photo.

The evidence of an ancient human presence in these vast landscapes seems very profound to me. It speaks of human ingenuity and human frailty at once and the power of community. It is so much of what drives us all and unites us with our ancient ancestors. Standing in these places makes me feel connected to our origins. I can imagine what a hard life that would have been, but I can imagine children running and playing among the rocks. I think what it might have been like to sit at the edge of the cliff in the evening and see the setting sun reflected on the canyon walls in a blaze of brilliant color. It seems a great privilege to be able to touch these places.


  1. Terry, Your photos of the cliff dwellings are amazing! I wonder if it was some kind of spiritual retreat rather than family homes. Like the ancient dessert fathers. Lucky you getting the chance to visit. Ros

  2. Your wonderful pictures bring back happy memories, I have been lucky enough to visit Mesa Verde, The Arches and my favourite place of all time Canyon de Chelly.
    I am enjoying your road trip :)

  3. What a powerful message!!! I will probably never get to visit any of these places but you have shared the spirit of them with me. thanks

  4. Anonymous3:57 AM

    Oh the vivid memories. My husband & I were there in 1995, I can see walking around and remember being profoundly in awe of this place. Thanks for sharing the photos!


  5. You've just added more places to my list. I love living in AZ, the heritage is so rich!

  6. That last shot to give perspective to it all is quite amazing. Thanks. I've only seen photos but now I see the vastness that Roger once described to me. Hope I get to see it in person one day. In the meantime I'm vicariously enjoying your trip.

  7. Canyon de Chelly is a magical place. You hear the woo-woo expression "power spot", but I really felt something remarkable there.

  8. It's been years since we did this trip and I still remember how amazing it was! You got some gorgeous pictures and I am feeling like I am back there again. Thanks Terry- I think I have to get back out to the Rockies real soon.

  9. Many years ago my family went to some of these places and I had much the same feeling as you did, Terry. The interconnectedness of us and the ones who came before and the earth and all that grows and lives on it are so much clearer in places like Canyon de Chelly than in the middle of the city. It takes conscious thought to get to that sense without the awe of those amazing places. Thanks for the great photos.

  10. What a fun trip! Thanks for sharing it with us.