Got started a little later than I wanted today. But what else is new?
Bandelier was the goal today – and it was met.
Bandelier – named after the archaeologist who brought the site’s importance to light – was a place of settlement for Anceint Pueblo peoples up until the 16th century. What the visitor is able to see are some remains of settlement on the floor of the canyon and – most famously – the cliff dwellings.
There are, of course, many places to see ancestral cliff dwellings around the West, including the Puye Cliff dwellings that were right on the way to Bandelier (for us) – but the latter is much more expensive to visit.
Because of a recent fire, the Park Service prohibits individuals from driving up to Bandelier – you must catch a shuttle bus down in White Rock. It struck me as a system they might just want to retain – I didn’t mind not driving up there, the shuttles come frequently, and it works to limit and control visitor numbers.
To stand at the village site down in the canyon, looking up at the cliffs, then standing up at the level of the cliffs, looking down – to imagine the area filled with people, working, creating, living – was illuminating. It became more than just a drawing in a textbook. So many centuries away, so many degrees of cultural separation – nonetheless, you could almost see it.
And of course, there are ladders. The main attraction to some.
The first set of ladders along the cliff dwellings were nothing. Piece of cake.
Then, after an extra half mile hike, you get to the famed “Alcove House” – and – well, these are serious ladders.
Joseph stood stock still and gasped, ”We’re going up there?”
A family with a couple of rather small children passed us coming from the Alcove House. I asked how it was, and if the little ones had made the climb. Yes, they had, ”And we all survived, ” said the mom.
I completely understood. Going up wasn’t bad. Coming down made me pretty nervous – for them.
Now here’s what I was thinking about. I was thinking about all the loads of government regulations that exist to purportedly keep us safe and protect us from being harmed from large cups of Dr. Pepper or what have you. I thought about the insurers and attorneys who have scared see-saws away from parks and convinced (for example) the managers of the (wonderful) living history museum El Rancho de Las Golondrinas that we visited on Sunday that to position an open pair of scissors above a doorway – as was traditional during the colonial period – was a potential source of litigation, so should be moved to the side of the doorway…
I watched little kids and old people climb gingerly up and down these ladders, with pretty far to go if they slipped and even further if they bounced, with nary a park employee in sight, no visible means of communication back to HQ, and I was simultaneously pleased and puzzled. Perhaps they were there – somewhere – but I didn’t see them, and perhaps I wouldn’t have been “pleased” if one of my children (or I) had slipped and required attention. But even with the risk – perhaps because of the risk – it had the feel of an oasis.
As usual, the National Park facilities were great and the personnel whom I did see (!) – really impressive. Are there any more helpful and friendly government employees than those in the National Park Service? I don’t think so. I guess they know what they’re doing with that whole – let-4-year-olds-climb-up-huge-ladders thing.
There’s another part to Bandalier, a couple of miles from White Rock. It’s the Tsankawi section, with more caves, petroglyphs and an ancient trail worn into the rock. The location is abruptly presented to you – right there at the side of highway 4 – you just pull over, get out, and start walking.
Unfortunately, clouds were gathering by then – serious clouds, raindrops and lightening not too far away. Not safe. So we will probably try to do that tomorrow.
On the way back to our rental, I stopped at the San Ildefonso Pueblo, and not just because of its reputation as one of the “best” pueblos to visit.
(If you are unfamiliar with the protocol of visiting pueblos, in short – it’s that you can’t just pull up and stroll about. You must register at a visitor’s center, usually pay a fee – and an extra fee if you want to take photos (if photos are allowed), and you can only do so at certain hours of the day.)
No, this pueblo is of interest to me because it was the home of the famed – and very important – potter, Maria Montoya Martinez, one of the artists responsible for the heightened mid-century outsider interest in Southwestern Native American art.
For you see, I own a Maria piece – it’s a simple plate, in her well known black-matte-on-black style, and it’s signed and numbered. I meant to take photos of it, front and back, before I left, but (of course), I forgot. My mother bought it back in the 50′s, either when she was a student at the University of Arizona or a graduate student at UT-Austin. I’m not sure when, but it was hers and I wanted to visit Maria’s pueblo and perhaps talk to someone about the plate.
Well, we did, but it was a little late – 4:45 - and the village was closed, as the woman in the visitor’s center told me. She pointed me to the shop of Maria’s great-great-granddaughter (I think), but she had closed down for the day, as well. It’s not far from where we are, and I still have a couple of days, so I might try again tomorrow or Wednesday.
What next? Not sure – we will probably take the High Road to Taos - including Chimayo – tomorrow. We might try to go back Tsankawi if we can get going early enough in the morning – but I also have received lobbyists expressing strong interest in climbing the portion of Black Mesa that’s right behind our rental – the owner says it’s fine, and their are photos of grandchildren at the top to prove it. I actually think that for my boys, climbing the mesa that looms right in back of where they sleep would be a more exciting and memorable achievement than more ancient cliff dwellings – although they like that too.
We’ll see in the morning.