America's Never Never with a group of my geology students. You can catch up with the earlier posts by clicking here.
As I said in the original post, the Never Never is a remote and largely inaccessible part of the Northern Territory and Queensland of Australia's Outback. To some, it is a place that one would "never, never" want to go (despite this neat-sounding trip). To some of those who live there, it is a place one would never, never want to leave.
There are many parallels between Australia's Outback and the American
Southwest, especially the Colorado Plateau. Most of the local
populations live on the margins of the region, and until recent decades many parts remained unexplored by people of European descent. To
others it has been home for thousands of years. The lands are ancient,
each part revealing a fascinating geological story. And so it is that I refer to the Colorado Plateau as America's Never Never.
When we last left off the story we had explored Antelope Canyon, a deep slot canyon near Page Arizona. It was late by the time we finished our tour so the sun had set long before we arrived at our next campsite at Navajo National Monument on the lands of the Navajo people.
The land is unique. It is a high plateau called the Shonto that reaches elevations of more than 7,000 feet, which is high enough to support a forest of juniper and pinyon pines. The cooler forested highland is a stark contrast to the mostly barren deserts that surround the uplift. The plateau exposes Triassic and Jurassic aged sedimentary rocks, primarily the Navajo Sandstone. The Navajo is a major scenery maker in the region, responsible for the incredible cliffs in such places as Zion and Capitol Reef National Parks. The main drainage of this part of the Shonto Plateau is Tsegi Canyon, a deep gorge with an intricate maze of side canyons. Alcoves in the deep canyons protect some of the most perfectly preserved cliff dwellings to be found anywhere.
We like to think in our technological bubble that we are somehow immune from such problems, but the need for water and food is still fundamental, and we are once again seeing the story unfold in the Colorado Plateau region of persistent decades-long drought. The present drought has now lasted 14 years, not far off from the 25 year drought that forced the Ancestral Puebloans to leave. The big difference is that the population that depends on water from the Colorado River now numbers in the millions, not the thousands. We can draw water from elsewhere, but drought is gripping California as well. It is a worrisome time.
One cannot explore the villages of Navajo National Monument without taking a stiff hike and the presence of a ranger/guide (Inscription House is closed to all visitation), but a short trail winds across the plateau surface from the visitor center to an overlook hundreds of feet above Betatakin. The preservation of the village is truly astounding, given our sorry penchant for destruction of all things ancient. It's a fascinating place to visit.