Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Abandoned Lands...A Journey Through the Colorado Plateau

This is a land that breaks people...
Fajada Butte on the morning of the Summer Solstice, Chaco Culture Historical National Park, New Mexico
Over and over, people come here, seeking any number of things: land, security, riches, spiritual enlightenment. And then they leave. It is a tough land, where simple survival is difficult. Sometimes a well-prepared culture will come here and stay for a few centuries. Sometimes the sojourn is measured in decades. For us, it was two weeks.
Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Culture Historical National Park
Does this sound like a condemnation of this landscape? It is most certainly not. This land, the Colorado Plateau, encompassing parts of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico is most precious to me, a place I return to whenever I can. It is beautiful beyond words. It is a source of inspiration, and a fountain of information about the earth itself. But to visit this land, we must extend a bubble of our more comfortable environments, in little pods of slightly cooler air contained in vehicles that can transport us hundreds of miles where our forebears had to walk, or ride horses a few miles a day. There are towns and cities in this region today only because we bring energy and resources from elsewhere.
Abandoned corral at the Acoma Pueblo
This became apparent to me these last two weeks. We had a wonderful journey, 30 students of geology and anthropology and their professors, on a trip that took us through the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and numerous other parks and monuments. As the trip continued, I was reminded over and over how ephemeral our existence is in a harsh landscape. There were abandoned cliff dwellings, abandoned towns, abandoned railways, abandoned trails and roads. It is a place that sent people packing for other places when life became unsustainable. There are of course lessons here for our current civilization.
Hoodoos and fir trees at Bryce Canyon National Park
But mostly this land is beautiful, and reveals a rich history, of 13,000+ years of human occupation, and 2 billion years of geological history. For the next few weeks I will try to let you see this beautiful landscape the way we saw it. It has been abandoned over and over, but we are part of a society that occupies the land today, giving us access to a marvelous story.


220mya said...

As Will Durant said: "Civilization exists by geologic consent, subject to change without notice."

Anonymous said...

This is a most beautiful blog. I only stumbled upon it by chance because I was searching for a book on the Colorado plateau for my trip in September. I'm so excited, after perusing through your blog, can hardly wait to be there. You are so amazing to be who you are and really enjoy and understand this little piece of earth.
I took a class once at Modesto JC from Dan Peterson, drawing perspective -there's another amazing human being that taught at Modesto JC.