From “Gambler’s House” – The First Family of Chaco

A fascinating and important article about Chaco was published last week in Nature Communications, an open-access offshoot of the venerable journal Nature (already a good sign). Since it’s open-access, the full text of the article is available free online here. The researchers behind the article, based mainly at Penn State and Harvard but also including […]

via The First Family of Chaco — Gambler’s House

Much Ado About Walls

I had no idea so many people like walls! And not just archaeologists or architects.

So tonight, I give you a friendly wall from Salmon Ruins, New Mexico, one of the Chaco outliers.

Some of you may see a face.Face_Wall

(Did you know there’s a word for that? It’s called pareidolia, and derives from our tendency to look for familiar patterns in random objects.)

Some of you may see two faces.

What do you see? A pensive wall, a grumpy wall, a happy wall?  Let me know.  I think Mr. (or Ms.) Wall needs a name.

If you really, really love Chacoan walls (and who doesn’t?) and you’re on Facebook, be sure to check out the Chaco Canyon Project, where Gary Gackstatter celebrates all things Chacoan. You should see his photographs. Join the Chaco Tribe!

As subtle as running into a brick wall….

Is it just archaeologists and archaeology-buffs who take pictures of walls? Or do others get excited, and can’t help exclaiming, “Look at that masonry!” CasaRinconadaWallHere’s some gorgeous stonework at Casa Rinconada in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. (AD 1075-1250s)

For the world is hollow, and I have touched the Sky (City)….

West of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America: Acoma Pueblo. Sky_CityThe 367-foot sandstone bluff is visible from miles away, but ageless adobe houses nearly blend into the top of the mesa. The Acoma settled here in approximately 1150 A.D. – for defensive reasons as the story goes – and although the majority of the tribe now lives on the reservation land surrounding the mesa, 50 or so tribal members still live here in their sky city. There is no running water, no electricity, and no sewers. That’s the way they like it. Many of those who remain are elderly, we were told, or just don’t care for the hustle and noise of city life. Some of them are painters or weavers or potters who are maintaining their traditional arts. (And they do beautiful work – while some of them take credit cards – really, just take a bunch of cash with you – it’s easier.)

Because the people value their privacy, the pueblo is not open to visitors except for organized tours, led by a tribal guide. After stopping at the cultural center down below – which also houses a museum and gift shop – you are taken up in groups by shuttle bus driven along the road you have to thank Hollywood for. Until Hollywood fell in love with New Mexico, there was only a “staircase” of sorts carved into the cliff face. But to make movies, they need equipment, and equipment needs roads. So now the tribe uses the road as part of their tourist infrastructure. (We had the opportunity to take the, uh, “stairs” back down the mesa after the tour was over. Some of our group did, but I declined. Too close to the beginning of the trip for me to trash a knee or ankle.) Ladder_cropped

There is no wandering wherever you want, no walking into people’s homes. We saw few people besides our guide and the artists displaying their wares. And a dog.

The colors in Sky City are muted: shades of brown and white against the blue sky. It seemed somehow fitting, because the history of the Pueblo is not all pleasant. No, it wasn’t like a somber funeral procession or something, nor did we feel anger or bitterness. Our guide was funny, entertaining, and informative. She spoke of having “the best of two worlds” (of getting to choose which parts of Catholicism to blend with their native beliefs, or getting to choose whether she was in her world or in ours).

She showed us the traditional adobe ovens still in use, the patched-many-times-over walls of their homes (if you look closely you can see bits of old pots embedded in the mud).adobe_oven

Then there was the San Esteban del Rey Mission (1640). In the Spaniards bid to convert the natives, Acoma men were forced to build it. Some of them are still present we were told: buried in the walls. And that bell you see in the photo below. They didn’t want it. But they were made to pay for the bell anyway – with their children. It wasn’t the first time children had been taken from them (never to be seen again).

You won’t see photos of the inside of the church (beautifully restored!) – it is not permitted. church_bellNor will you see photos of the graveyard which sits between the church and the edge of the cliff. It not only represents yet another feat of architectural engineering they accomplished on top of this bluff (no road to haul up all that dirt), but another way in which they were forced to accept a foreign custom: burying their dead. There is little room left in the graveyard. From now on, only the elders can be buried there.

But that is not to say there will be no other arrivals. On the far wall, overlooking that abrupt drop-off to the valley floor, there is a hole. It is for the souls of their children. Those the Spanish took away, the ones they have no idea what ever happened to. There will always be room for those children’s spirits to return to their people. It may take a long time for the spirits to find their way home, but they will always be welcomed.

A Penguin and a T-Rex Walk Into a Bar

I’m not quite sure where I read about the Chama River Microbar in Albuquerque, but I was curious as to why I had scribbled the bar’s name and address in the margins of my Moon’s New Mexico Handbook. ChamaDogs I’d arrived in town two days ahead of the scheduled start of my Chaco Canyon tour and, after enjoying the city’s museums, decided to have a little adventure Friday evening. To save money, I’d booked a cheap room at the funky Route 66 Hostel, conveniently located between old town and downtown, and decided to forgo a rental car and instead use the local buses. (Hey, $2 for an all-day pass! That’s hard to beat.) Yes, this means I was riding the bus by myself at night….pssst….don’t tell my mom; no matter how old I get she’s forever telling me to not travel alone in a strange city.

I almost missed the place, which is literally a hole in the wall on 2nd Street, just a block from the Alvarado Transit Center (a major bus/train transfer point). With the gentrified-sounding “microbar” in its name, I expected something other than a small bar with half a dozen stools, maybe four tables, and what looked like an iPod-centered music system. Positive I must’ve read a recommendation for this bar in some travel magazine, I hesitated for a brief second. This didn’t look like the sort of place travelers frequent. It’s too small and too easy miss.

But as I stood in the doorway, Ado and Scotty greeted me. Who? you ask. Ado and Scotty – that’s the two dogs there in the photo. Their relaxed stances, wiggling butts, and wagging tails told me all I needed to know. I held out my hand for them to sniff and promptly got licked, and licked, and licked. You know how it is with the dogs. I petted them and asked their permission to enter. And they made a path for me, trailing behind. The tables were full, so I plopped my butt down on the last stool at the end of the bar.

PenguinAtChamaA couple of reviews I’ve since read were critical of the bar’s atmosphere: its “locals only” feel, an inattentive bartender, and “not safe for women” vibe. But I experienced nothing like that. Certainly, I kept my day pack slung across my back – but I always keep my money and ID close to me when traveling. I was instantly welcomed by the bartender, who gave me a taste test of their available brews. (The Microbar is listed as a tasting room for the Chama River Brewery on the north side of Albuquerque.) I spent a friendly evening chatting, first with the bartender and Adam, the patron on the stool next to me and then with Aaron (who replaced Adam who had to leave) about Albuquerque and Chaco Canyon. I’m certain I was the only out-of-towner in the bar, but no one treated me any different. Heck, even the couple at the end of the bar shared their pizza with me! (The microbar doesn’t serve food, but you can request delivery from any number of nearby food establishments.)

And no one laughed when I pulled Penguin About Town out of my pack and posed him next to a glass of the Chama River Amber Ale. I figured he’d had a tough day, nearly getting devoured by Stan, the T-Rex at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History. He needed a drink and a friendly welcome to Albuquerque. So did I. It was a pleasant way to spend the evening: a couple of dogs, a dozen or so humans, and a stuffed penguin. It didn’t matter how far any of us had traveled to get there, or why anyone was there. Only the beer and the conversation mattered. Words. Drink. Time. All cocooned in a non-descript hole in the wall that the average tourist would walk right past.PenguinAtMuseum

Footprints in the Far Places

Two or three years ago, in the “Reader’s Digest” magazine, there was a letter to the editor, accompanied by a photo from Machu Picchu (Peru), from a reader suggesting a new way for travelers to document their journeys: taking photos of their feet.

ImageNew? Hmmmm. No disrespect to the letter writer, who inferred that this was an innovative technique which he and his family had created and wanted to share with the world, but it’s hardly new. I’ve been taking pictures of my feet since sometime in the early 1980s. I’m not claiming to have invented the idea either, but I do have a picture just like the one they published in “Reader’s Digest” that was taken in approximately the same spot about a decade earlier than theirs.

It started in a moment of spontaneous silliness. Sitting on the beach in Santa Cruz, California, I pulled off my shoes and dug my toes into the sand, seeking the warmth trapped below the surface. I then placed my shoes – new pink and white Nikes – in front of me and snapped a photo of them with the waves crashing onto shore as a backdrop. Okay, that technically doesn’t qualify as taking a picture of my feet since they weren’t in the shoes at the time, but that quickly led to a new trend.

A few months later at Disneyland, sitting on the Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster, I slid my foot next to my cousin’s and snapped a picture of our two feet while waiting for the ride to start. That was only the beginning.

I have pictures of my feet everywhere: at home (which usually include a cat or two who are sleeping on them) and around the world: Norway, Zanzibar, Argentina, British Columbia, Antarctica, Iceland, Dubai, etc. I have pictures on beaches, glaciers, and man-made structures. I have pictures of my feet in places where it was probably a bit disrespectful: standing on top of Hadrian’s Wall in England, propped up against the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt. I tried to take a picture of my feet on a bench in the British Museum (London), but got yelled at by a matronly white-haired docent with a sharp accent and even sharper tongue. I have pictures of my feet alongside relatives and friends at any number of places from a nameless lake up in the Sierra Nevada to a park trail in Bandelier National Monument. The friends and relatives think I’m a bit crazy, but they go along with my urging to “hey, put your foot there!” I even have one friend who, when now viewing any of my vacation photos, always first asks “Where’s the foot pictures?”

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Do I have a foot fetish? No, I don’t think so. Feet, mine or other people’s, don’t fascinate me. I don’t run around in my daily life snapping foot pictures in ordinary circumstances. I don’t take pictures of strangers’ feet like some crazed stalker.

Like the letter writer in “Reader’s Digest” I came to discover what a unique way the foot photos were to document my travel, to say “Janet was here.”

All of my photo albums (traditional or electronic) have at least one foot picture. My Antarctica photo book even includes pictures of penguin feet (I thought that was a nice counterpart to pair with mine), and even a couple footprints in the snow. As eco-travelers like to say (and this might be a National Geographic slogan, but I’m not certain): “Take only memories, leave only footprints.”

I will eventually be making a photo album containing only my feet pictures, but I’ve got two more continents to go first (Asia and Australia). I envision using a global map and placing a foot photo on each country my feet have touched. My journey. My footprints.

Do you take pictures of your feet? Dog owners – do you take pictures of your foot next to your dog’s paw? It’s an ordinary thing, walking the dog every day, but did you ever think to memorialize it for later? Parents – you have tons of photos of your kids, but of their feet? Their foot next to yours, say once a year, as their foot grows in comparison? Take note of where your feet have been and whose paths they have crossed.

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