Acoma Sky City

If you travel about 60 miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico, you’ll come upon a 367-foot sandstone bluff. Atop that bluff, you’ll glimpse a village. Acoma Sky City is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in America. Because of that, I’m really surprised that more people don’t know about it.

I had the opportunity to visit this magical place in 2005 when I was traveling around the American West, visiting various Anasazi ruins. The Anasazi, now called the Ancestral Puebloans, occupied this bluff, and the Puebloans themselves have been living there since at least the 13th Century.

That’s quite an achievement. It’s a great strategic location. From way up there you can see for miles in any direction. But it’s also a very isolated, desert landscape. To this day, the nearly 5,000 people who identify as Acoma live there without water, sewer, or electricity. All water is currently brought in by truck, and people use generators when they feel the need for power. There was no road access to the bluff until the 1950’s.

Even while living traditionally, modern life does have a tendency to creep in. While showing us one of the traditional kivas (their circular religious chambers), a tour guide told us that the men gather there for ceremonies, yes, but they’ve also been known to snake extension cords in through the windows from the generators so that they can watch the super bowl in peace. (I just love that story.)

While up there learning about Acoma’s rich history, you can visit many little shops that sell traditional pottery and food, and you can also check out the pretty San Esteban Del Rey mission and the cemetery.

The Acoma identify as Catholics, thanks to that mission, but they also incorporate a lot of ancient spiritual beliefs. The cemetery has holes in the wall so that the spirits can depart, for example. And the mission has corn painted on the walls, as the people are very focused upon agriculture and nature.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Acoma Sky City, I highly recommend it. Until then, I’ll leave you with some of the pictures I took in 2005.

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Rock Art Rocks!

I have always been a huge fan of aboriginal art, especially that of the ancestral Puebloans, formerly known as the Anasazi. Whether it be pictographs (paintings) or petroglyphs (images cut into stone), they all leave me mesmerized. I could gaze at this art for hours.

When I look at this ancient creativity, I feel transported to another time. I try to imagine the artist. Was it a man or a woman or a child? What message was that person trying to send? Was it meant to be spiritual, or a warning, or informational, or simply decorative? Why did he or she choose this particular spot to work on?  (More to the point, with all the flat rock surfaces throughout Utah, why is there not more rock art? I want more!)

There are several opportunities to view rock art in the Moab, Utah area. The first I got to see was this petroglyph of longhorn sheep and men on horseback that is located behind the Wolfe Ranch in Arches National Park. This, to me, says that people have worked and hunted on this land for centuries. We humans do have a tendency to want to make our marks.

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The next opportunity was not far from the park’s entrance. It is a panel called Courthouse Wash. Sadly, it’s very faded, because some fools decided to vandalize it, and park rangers had to clean it up. This removed a lot of the stunning pigment. (Why do so many people enjoy destroying things? Why? I will never understand that urge.) Click the link in this paragraph to see images of it before it faded.

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This panel depicts all manner of strangely shaped people, some with horns. If anything makes me think we’ve been visited by beings from other planets, it’s this art. Were these their Gods? Or were these peyote-influenced visions? Perhaps they were attempting to scare off intruders. It’s all been lost to time. Beneath this panel was a petroglyph of still more other-worldly creatures. I kept thinking that I was standing on the very spot where the artists once stood. I could have reached out and touched this work, but I didn’t want to damage it.

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Next, thanks to my highly observant brother-in-law, who saw a notation on the edge of the park map that said, “Petroglyphs, 5 miles,” we went on an adventure down Scenic Byway 279, toward Potash. That was fun. We passed dozens of rock climbers scaling the cliffs, and then finally reached a spot where they are not allowed to climb for very good reason. I’ve never seen such a long stretch of petroglyphs in my life, including some that look like a string of paper dolls, and another that was a hand print. Amazing. I will leave you with my photographs, which definitely do NOT do the Potash Panel justice. Enjoy!

(While doing research for this post, I discovered that there are dinosaur tracks near the Potash Panel that I completely missed! That’s what I get for not doing my homework. There is also a very impressive bear petroglyph that we couldn’t find for some reason, but you can see it in the Potash Panel link.)

 

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A Real Cliffhanger

Back in 2005, I took a trip out west with my boyfriend at the time to Canyon De Chelly because I had a fascination with all things Anasazi. The canyon is now a national monument, but people have been living there for almost 5,000 years. Currently about 40 Navajo families are in residence. As with most of the rest of Arizona, the landscape is stunning.

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To go into the canyon itself you need to take a tour or get a permit. We opted to go horseback riding with a Navajo guide. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone manages to live there, because it is, in essence, a big bowl of sand. If not for the horses, we’d have been slogging along in calf high sand the vast majority of the time, with only the occasional grove of olive trees for shade, and no water to speak of.

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Our guide took us to see some beautiful petroglyphs, and then, further along, some ancient cliff dwellings high above the canyon floor. I asked him if he had ever climbed up there, and he said, “No, because it would affect our bodies.”

I thought that was a curious response, and it had me reflecting upon the great cultural divide between me and this man, who had not spoken much at all up to this point. He began to interest me more than the landscape we were travelling through. I’d ask him questions. He’d pause, as if considering the best way to dole out his words in the most economical fashion. Then he’d respond.

“Have you always lived in this area?” Pause. “Yes. Always.”

Hours later, after his occasional brief response to my inquiries, for some reason the dam seemed to break. When I asked him if he’d ever been outside of this area he paused for a long time. Then he told me the following story.

“One time these people came here and booked a 3 day tour. The lady liked one of our horses so much that she offered to buy it, but she wanted us to deliver it to her home near Boston. So we did. We drove the whole way without stopping. Through many lands. Then we saw Boston.”

“Did you get to see the ocean?”

“Yes.”

“What did you think?”

“It was very big.”

I will always have a mental image of this man gazing out at the Atlantic as if he had just arrived from another planet. “Then we came home.”

At the end of the tour we said our good byes and I realized that this man had a much greater impact on me than I had on him. To him, I’m sure, I was like a brief wind. I wasn’t the first. I wouldn’t be the last. But to me, he was like a stone monument. He would always be there in my mind.

That night we camped, and the next day we drove along the rim of the canyon, stopping at each of the overlooks to take in the stunning views. At the last overlook, the eerie western silence was broken by a strange sound. I couldn’t identify it, and the first time I heard it, I thought it must have been my imagination. Then there it was again.

“Did you hear that?”

“No. What?”

“That!”

I got down on my hands and knees, and stuck my head over the side of the cliff, and sure enough, on a ledge about 3 feet below us was a skinny little puppy. He was shivering and crying.

“Oh, shit. We can’t just leave it.”

“Barb, it’s a 1,000 foot drop.”

“I know. But if I drive away and leave that dog, I’ll never be able to live with myself.”

And before he could say anything, I lowered myself down to the ledge, which, thank God, supported my weight. Don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down…I grabbed the puppy, handed it to my boyfriend, climbed back up and walked as far away from the rim as I could get so as not to have the panic attack that I could feel trying to overtake me.

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Alrighty then. Next. Feed the puppy. And man, he was hungry. He ate half our picnic lunch. I would have loved to keep him, but Florida was a long way away. So we took him to the ranger station, and they told us they’d bring him to a no kill shelter at the nearest town. We had one request.

“Tell them his name is Cliff.”

“Enthusiosity”

There’s a streak that runs through my family, and it’s as wide as the Mississippi River. For lack of a better word, I call it “enthusiosity”. It’s curiosity mixed with a great deal of enthusiasm. My mother had it more than anyone else. She’d get interested in a topic such as Australian History, and she’d read every single thing that the library had on the subject. Then she’d move on to something else, like Anasazi basket weaving. She was an amazing woman, my mother. One of those people who could walk into a room and suddenly the lights would seem brighter. She loved to talk to people. She loved to learn.

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I love this picture of her. You can see the “enthusiosity” written all over her face.

She would have chewed up college like locusts in a field, but her father, who intended to send her to school, unfortunately died in WWII when she was 17. I often wonder what her life would have been like had he survived.

She never lived to see the internet, and that’s a shame. If she had, we’d have been hard pressed to get her off line each night. She’d have been constantly saying things like, “Oh! Look at this! They’ve found a new species of lobster with HAIR!”

I think of my mother every time I go into a library. I remember her telling me one time that libraries were the most amazing places, because when you went inside, you could go anywhere in the entire universe. To this day, I get butterflies in my stomach whenever I enter a library, not unlike the kind other people would get by going to Disney World for the first time.

If you never lose your “enthusiosity”, if your mind is always open to learning new things, you will have riches beyond measure.