Thursday, November 11, 2010

Desert Soul Affair (Pt. II)

The next morning we awoke early to the cold. It had dropped to 30F, and I'd felt it. (We weren't the only ones. A few days later, I noticed that mice had climbed up onto the engine block to keep warm. They'd chewed holes in the windshield wiper lines, plus the starter cables, a fact I'm relieved to have found early.) After breakfast we moved over to the Visitor Center. A jeep with German plates was parked in the parking lot, the words 'California to Syria' emblazoned on both sides. It was one of the smaller models, the size nearly doubled with all the gear lashed to all four sides. (I particularly liked the Coleman cooler strapped to the front grill.) The driver and his son wore matching red jumpsuits and were sharing coffee with the rangers when we walked in. Just after us, a thin blonde woman walked in, and began to complain to the head Ranger about a man who had a unleashed dog in the camp area, and that the dog had jumped up and frightened her. Her main complaint seemed less about the dog than that the owner "hadn't properly apologized." Miki and I had actually witnessed this encounter, and the owner HAD apologized, though in a casual, friendly way. The German too had said that he found the dog to be gentle, and that the woman was simply freaking out. So there it was, that sense of entitlement that many people so freely display here.

We spent the rest of the morning walking amongst the ruins, ducking through doorways and staring down into kivas. It was a warm morning, made more pleasant by the fact that we had the ruins to ourselves. For the week leading up to this trip, I'd read a half dozen books about Chaco
and the Anasazi, to help understand things better and to get some perspective. The photos in these books (nor this blog entry) can't come close to matching the incredible scale and beauty of the place. The fallen Threatening Rock, now strewn over a quarter of Pueblo Bonito, was far more immense than I'd thought. Interesting how it had hung over the Pueblo for a millennium, falling only after the archaeologists began poking around and removing the prayer sticks that had reenforced it. We followed a trail through a gap in the wall up to the mesatop, looking out over the ruins and the entire canyon. The trail led to Pueblo Alto, partially buried in the sand. We stood out here at the edge of the desert watching the ancient road leading away over terrain that had so troubled our truck on the way in. What had these ancients thought as they began to move along it, out into the wild? That said, what wasn't wild back then?

Our last stop was at Casa Rinconada, the place I most wanted to see. This had been the spiritual center of the Chacoan people, and I wanted to see what I could feel. But my mind was too busy with the fact that our truck had about an eighth of a tank of gas, with the nearest gas far away, out along very bad roads. I sped along, moving way too fast, hoping to get closer to civilization should our tank run dry. There seemed little out here but a few abandoned Navajo hogans, rotting into the desert floor. We overtook a few cars on the way, passing them in the hope that they'd not be too pissed at our dust to give us aid should we need it. A few of the inclines along this bumpy road dropped at near right angles on the far side, both of my feet hitting the brakes near their crests. I began to slow down after a couple of these, yet still moving at a clip that was both dangerous and stupid. After twenty miles, we were to bisect Navajo Rte 9, the condition of which I didn't know what to expect since the map showed a thin red line. How thrilled I was to find it newly paved, probably during the past few months. We overtook a wrecker, (bad omen?) and came finally to Crownpoint. I never expected to ever feel so happy to arrive at Crownpoint. However, after driving around a little we didn't find a gas station, and the gas gauge's needle was by now buried 6 feet below E. I thought we might find a gas station out on the highway, so headed south again. Luckily, we found a few Navajo parked on the side of the road, who led us back into town and to the pumps. We filled both the tank and our bellys, sitting awhile until our nerves finally calmed. Then south again meeting the Interstate at Thoreau, a name pronounced out here with an accent more redneck than Boston Brahmin. I usually hate the Interstate, but here couldn't avoid it, forced to move along in the shadows of the big trucks that infest this one. Finally, we arrived at the campsite in the shadow of El Morro...

On the turntable: Rolling Stones, "Got to be Worked On'
On the nighttable: John Nichols, "The Milagro Beanfield War"

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