I love driving cross country, especially when the roads—whether highways or back roads—follow along wide open spaces. I feel lucky whenever I travel. There are good roads these days with gas stations and fast food joints at almost every exit. There are rest stops where one can just kick back and stretch one’s legs before getting back into an air-conditioned vehicle. Next month I will be traveling in the southwest, and I still have not decided if I will travel out to Chaco Canyon because I know the 25-mile road into the place is gravel—so bumpy, dusty and slow. But it is still a road!
Eventually on my travels my thoughts turn to the Native People who lived in this land long before asphalt roads became the norm. These people called these open spaces home. They lived and loved and raised their families for hundreds of years before we even knew these lands existed. Many current Native American Tribes trace their roots back to these courageous, hard-working, remarkable people who survived for centuries.
Whenever I can visit the ruins and petroglyphs these people left behind, I am in awe. I can only imagine what these ancient people could share with us about what is really important in life. Here are a few of the locations that give a glimpse into these past lives.
TONTO NATIONAL MONUMENT, ARIZONA
The Tonto Basin sits near the Sonoran Desert and was home to Native People for centuries. They lived, hunted and farmed here as they settled into life in and around these cliffs. Rugged terrain isolated the area from the modern world until at least 1870 when ranchers and soldiers started into the basin. In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt set the area aside as a national monument to protect the site from vandals who would excavate the site for pots, cloth and other artifacts that show the life from the area—and could easily be sold to collectors.
Two of the hundreds of dwellings evident throughout the area are preserved within the national monument. These two cliff dwellings—Lower Cliff and Upper Cliff —were in use from 1250-1450. Here are some photos of the Lower Cliff Dwelling that can be reached via a short hike from the Tonto National Monument Visitor Center.
CASA GRANDE RUINS NATIONAL MONUMENT, ARIZONA
The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument preserves multiple structures that were created by the Hohokam, who farmed the Gila Valley in the 13th century. Archeological evidence suggests the Hohokam practiced irrigation farming and extensive trade connections in this area until about 1450. Casa Grande is the largest structure within the village; it was named by Father Kino, the first European to view the complex in 1694.
This large house was four stories tall in the center with outer rooms that were three stories high. The walls are made of caliche, following the traditional adobe process. The separate covering—rather like a carport—was erected in 1932, even though the original adobe has withstood the harsh elements for centuries. Situated roughly halfway between Phoenix and Tucson, Casa Grande is easy to find and thus catch a glimpse into the past.
In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison named the Casa Grande Ruins a national monument, the first cultural and prehistoric site to be protected in the country. The purpose of Casa Grande is not known, but there is an Indian Legend. Supposedly, Casa Grande is God’s House and he comes once a year to visit, or a Crazy Man lives there and celebrates the sun. For me, not knowing its purpose makes this grand house that much more intriguing.
KUAUA PUEBLO MURALS, CORONADO HISTORIC SITE, NEW MEXICO
Located outside of Albuquerque, the Coronado Historic Site was dedicated in 1940 as part of the 400th anniversary of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s entry into New Mexico. Although named for Coronado, what is really impressive about the site is that it houses the ruins of the Kuaua Pueblo that was established about 1235. The area was abandoned by Kuaua in the late 16th century in response to encroachment and pressure from the Spanish as well as the Navajos.
The excavation of the area in 1930 revealed a Kuaua village that existed for at least three centuries and included several kivas. The murals found in one of the kivas are now on display at the Coronado Historic Site Visitor Center. These impressive murals represent the finest examples of pre-contact (pre-1492) Native American art from anywhere in North America. The artistry displayed in these murals is overwhelming. Here are photos of four of the fourteen murals on display.
PETROGLYPHS AT PARAWAN GAP, UTAH
“God’s Own House” is what Chief Wakara, a respected Paiute tribal leader, called the Parawan Gap in 1840 when the first Mormon Pioneers entered the area. The Gap is a canyon and passage through the Red Hills west of Parawan Valley. Fremont and Anasazi Indians lived in the area from 750-1250. The ancient trail through the Gap provided convenient annual passage to the west where desert resources could be harvested.
A brochure about the area explains how the Gap was formed:
“Approximately 15 million years ago, a long slender section of sedimentary rock sheared from the earth’s crust along parallel fault lines. This up-thrown block, later named the Red Hills, began to inch its way above the surrounding valley floor. At the same time the block was rising, a stream was cutting a path perpendicularly across the ridge. For millions of years the uplifting of the ridge and the down-cutting of the stream remained in equilibrium.
“Eventually, however, the relentless rise of the ridge and the drying of the region’s climate combined forces to defeat the stream. The stream disappeared and the valley became a waterless wind gap. Continued erosion by wind and rain have shaped the gap into the pass seen today.”
When I visited this site years ago, the drive took me across fields and through a small flock of sheep before arriving at the Gap. It was a delightful afternoon. Once there, I was able to view the site’s numerous petroglyphs. Recent research suggests that the area was used to mark the passage of time by tracking the travel of the sun throughout the year. Since no human intervention created the pass, Chief Wakara’s name of the area seems more and more accurate!
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A FEW QUOTES
“When you are in doubt, be still and wait; when doubt no longer exists for you, then go forward with courage. So long as mists envelop you, be still; be still until the sunlight pours through and dispels the mists—as it surely will. Then act with courage.” Chief White Eagle, Ponca (1840-1914)
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” Chief Seattle, Duwamish 1854
“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot, Blackfoot (1830-1890)
“Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other, thus should we do, for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World.” Black Elk, Ogala Lakota Sioux (1863-1950)
“I do not think the measure of a civilization is how tall its buildings of concrete are, but rather how well its people have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man.” Sun Bear, Chippewa (1929-1992)
“All things share the same breath—the beast, the tree, the man, the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports.” Chief Seattle, Duwamish (1786-1866)
“When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.” Cree Prophecy
NOTE: This post is my response to Sunday Stills: The Next Challenge 100+.