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2003-07-29 - 9:09 a.m.

Where was I? I think we were still in Albuquerque ...

After we hiked around the interior of Rinconado Canyon, we decided to drive up the road a ways and see Santa Fe. We stopped in Cuba to get a coke at a fast food place since most of the restaurants we had encountered served Pepsi. I know, shallow and consumerist. Along the way we saw lots of billboards with great graphics like this:

There's a plug there for their group. Don't worry about it.

The organization is called Los Alamos Study Group and I have checked out their site. It's really informative. People tend to forget all of the weird, scary shit that has happened in New Mexico. The bomb, testing of strange new military hardware, etc. More about THAT later!

In Santa Fe we were astounded to see that almost every building, including major chains, was constructed of red clay-colored adobe. To the point where it became highly monotonous. Highly. My parents had told me that when they visited Sata Fe about 40 years ago that it was a nice little town; no more. It's highly commercial. I wonder what it's like to live there. We gave a miss to the "Indian markets" and went to a downtown area for lunch and trinkets. We fed all of our change into the parking meter and hoped it would carry us through. We tried to go eat at the Coyote Cafe but the hostess (?) was extrememly rude, dismissive, and unhelpful. So we crossed the street and had lunch at the American Cafe. The host there was an Arab-American man who was very nice, welcoming, and friendly. In fact, everyone there was most pleasant and the food was excellent. As you can probably tell from the name it was basically a burger joint/sandwich place and the decor was Americana. But it was a cool place.

Then we hit a couple of shops and made it back to the truck before the meter expired - with 6 minutes to spare. Several cars had hot pink parking tickets on them. Whew!

Then we stopped at the Villa Linda mall to get stamps. Verona and I had had an argument about whether there would be a post office in the mall - she was right. Another highlight is that the trip odometer hit 1000 miles in Santa Fe.

As we were leaving town it tuned up to rain a little and I noticed that the rain turned everything the same color of dark blue. Maybe it's like that everywhere, but I just don't notice because the skies there seem so much bigger.

We headed out for Colorado. Along the way, we turned off to see the Echo Amphitheater in Carson National Forest (off of 84). It's a huge natural amphitheater in the face of the mountain with a couple of little trails leading back. There was a necio Texas family there who wouldn't quit - how much yelling, talking, laughing, clapping, etc. to hear the echo can you do before you get the idea that, yes, sounds sent into the concavity will return to you? Apparently, some folks cannot get their fill. In the rare intervals between their noisemaking you could hear the wind pouring around the lip of the mountain, whispers of the distant highway sounds, bird calls, etc. You could hear the roaring echo of the silence ... But some people don't like that.

Someone had scratched a giant peace symbol in the sand at the bottom of the amphitheater. The mom of the family remarked, "Hopefully it'll rain and wash away the peace sign." Why? What does she have against peace?

Then it did rain and we headed back for the truck, leaving them to their shouting.

Between Chama and Monero we saw a tiny white church in a vast green valley with a backdrop of beautiful mountains. Vero stopped to get a picture. She's such a photographer! We listened to her nephew's CD mixes and were listening to "Time Warp" as we crossed the border to Colorado at 6:46 pm. 1143.2 miles "Welcome to Colorful Colorado."

In the San Juan Forest (which was bisected by the road we were on) we crested a hill and saw in front of us at some distance a figure crossing the road. It turned out to be a juvenile black bear. It came onto the road, hesitated when it saw us, and then disappeared into the trees. Luckily, it was not followed by a protective mama bear! It was such an amazing feeling to see that bear. I love knowing that there is still a little bit of wildlife out there. I could also see where all of the hysteria about yeti might come from --- he did have a distinctly human shape.

We pulled into Durango pretty late and found a hotel. It's a lot nicer town than I thought it would be. It's definitely attuned to tourists and skiers, but it wasvery distinctive. Maybe because tourists who go there do more than buy souvenirs and eat fast food.


Mesa Verde. What can I say? You have to go. It's a beautiful, beautiful place. You drive for 15 miles on mountain roads, sometimes on top of mountain ridges, between the entrance and the Visitor Center. In the distance, inside the park, we could see the smoke of the 4 extant forest fires and we met trucks of firefighters and were overtaken by helicopters hauling fire retardant several times.

At the Visitor Center we discovered that there are two main areas of the park open to visitors. We signed up for two ranger guided tours, Cliff Palace and Long House. At Cliff Palace we were in a huge group of international tourists. We walked down the steep narrow stairs built into a crevice in the rock and then walked around to where the CCC had built an additional terrace to the side of the structure. It was weird - like being in a picture. I had seen it so many times that it was hard to reconcile the fact that I was standing there. The ranger was very knowledgable and she answered lots of questions, some of them not very ... useful. I could see why the Ancient Puebloans would want to live there. Incidentally, we were told that Anasazi is finally being phased out - it means "ancient enemy" and it's a Navajo word. The present day Pueblo descendents of these people understandably don't like their ancestors being referred to as enemies. This ranger also brought up the whole issue of repatriation of remains. I thought some of the tourists were going to challenge her on that and one (white) man seemed to want to wax nostalgic about visiting the park long ago and seeing an "Indian mummy." The ranger brought the discussion down to his/our level saying, "We wouldn't want our grandparents dug up and put in a museum, would we?" I'm glad that at least a couple of issues important to Native Americans are being brought up to us tourists.

We circled a kiva and had the parts of it explained to us. The ranger stressed that the kiva is sacred space and told us we couldn't climb down into one. No worries there. I have no desire to step into someone's sacred space. Later on, at a self-guided walk through some ruins on the top of Chapin Mesa Verona and I saw footprints inside the remains of a kiva. I guess it doesn't bother someone.

We went on the self-guided tour to Spruce House and then went to the area to wait for the Long House Tour. There we got extremely lucky. We were early, along with a New Mexican family of four, and the ranger who had no one for his 3 pm tour decided to go ahead and take the 6 of us. So we got a really intensive tour because there were only 6 of us. The other great thing about this hike is that the ranger, Ben Chavarria, is a Pueblo and he gave a completely different perspective on some of the information we had been given before.

He was a joker, delivering his lines with such deadpan that he had us fooled half the time. He reminded me of an uncle of mine who liked to pull our legs when we were young. He was also very interesting. He was a farmer at his pueblo, so he would bring some of that knowledge to his discussions of the People (his term). He also talked about how some people at his Pueblo tell him that he shouldn't be participating in taking tourists through what they consider to be sacred places. And he talked about his grandmother who had taught him a lot of things and who had supported him in his activities there at Mesa Verde. There were several times when he would answer a question and then add, "That's all I can tell you about that." You knew that he knew a lot more, but that he couldn't share it.

We sat in the back of the structure, on a small shelf near the area where the water drips down through the sandstone to form a spring, and talked about what our roles would be in this community if we lived here. That more than anything gave me a feeling of what it would have been like to live here. The ranger stressed how important community would have been to these people and he identified what our roles would have been in the community (based upon what we said) rather than what we would have been. It's a difficult distinction to make in words, but it was there.

Then we hiked out over a very steep path. Along the way you could see the hand and toe holes that had been dug out in the surface of the rock.

We drove into Cortez and spent the night. We had no idea what would happen the next day ...

How's that for a cliff hanger?



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