Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bandelier National Monument

This is just about the prettiest picture I ever took. And my little compact digital isn't that great. I credit the ancient spirits worshipped by the people who built this kiva.

Kivas are ceremonial rooms where religious rites are held. Like their other dwellings, you enter through the roof.

To get up to this kiva, you climb 4 ladders and some narrow steps 140 feet up a cliff face.

At the bottom of the cliffs lived the Ancestral Pueblo people for 400 years until around 1500 AD (though evidence of humans passing through the area goes back 10,000 years). They dug out caves into the side of the cliffs, which served as the back rooms to several-story stone houses.

Continuing to work backwards here, the cliffs themselves are not rock. They're made of "tuff," a thousand-foot layer of compressed volcanic ash from two eruptions of the Jemez Volcano one million years ago. The eruptions were 600 times more powerful than the Mt. St. Helen's blast. So the tuff is soft and crumbly. In the softest parts, swiss cheese-like holes eroded away. The people here then dug out and enlarged these holes to create dwellings.

Below the cliffs, on a plateau on the banks of the Rio Grande, which provided a rare-for-this- area, year-round water source, was a village where, at its peak, around 700 people lived and cultivated crops.

This is just one settlement among hundreds in this park, among thousands of other sites throughout New Mexico and the Southwest. No one knows what happened to the Ancestral Pueblos or why they suddenly left around 1500, though several modern tribes trace their roots through oral history to these people.

By the way, I learned that Ancestral Pueblo is the preferred name. It used to be "Anasazi," but some say that's a pejorative term coined by the Navajo and meaning "Ancient Enemy."

What a world. How anyone could ever be bored by it is baffling.

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