Saturday, June 4, 2011

Adventures in the corners (part one)

I have just returned from a trip to the Four Corners region of the U.S.; I was on a research/scouting trip to a) figure out what's out there for our students to see next year (those who will be taking the Four Corners Course Connection), and b) learn about the region. I can say I did both. A lot!

I've been hesitating to post this entry because I'm not sure yet quite how to sum up this adventure. All I have is my words and my photographs from my little camera to try to convey the awe these places inspired. Okay, here goes.

(Rather than showing you place by place where we went in this post, I'll share some themes. But here's a list of the featured stops: Albuquerque, Aztec Ruins National Monument, Mesa Verde, Anasazi Heritage Center, Hovenweep National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument and Cedar Mesa, Edge of the Cedars, Monument Valley, Navajo National Monument, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Acoma Pueblo, and back on around to Albuquerque again. It was a whirlwind adventure!)

Theme one: out the window.
I think I took several hundred photos of the view out the window of the car. (My colleague Barbara and I drove from Ohio to Missouri the first day, then Missouri to Albuquerque, then all around the Four Corners; by the time I flew home that added up to about 2700 miles. Barbara did 99 percent of the driving. She is intrepid!)

I know that "out the window of the car" is not an ideal situation for photography, but I kind of feel like when you're out there, you just can't help it. Or at least I can't--I grew up on the east coast, and the topography of the Four Corners looks like another planet to me.

Here are a few of my photos out the window:

(On our way through Missouri, we passed a famous landmark... it was shiny!)

(Driving from New Mexico to Colorado, we saw the first of many interesting land formations...)

(Near Durango we passed by the southern tip of the Rockies. Wow!)

(At Mesa Verde you can see evidence of a forest fire some years ago. It's kind of eerie to come around a corner and be in a patch of dead trees.)

(This is near Mesa Verde. The landscape out there is just breath-taking. I love how you can see for miles and miles...)

(This is in southern Utah, where the rocks are red and the canyons are many.)

(Utah again, following Jim's truck to Bluff, where we ate dinner... More about Jim and his truck soon...)

Theme two: made by hand
On this trip I learned a lot about the Ancestral Puebloans and their culture. Twenty years ago, when my brother and I came through this region on our way out to California (that's a whole 'nother adventure), the story was that the people who lived at Mesa Verde and other cliff dwellings throughout the region were the Anasazi (a Navajo word that means "foreign ancient ones"), and that they had disappeared for mysterious reasons and left no descendants.

Today the park rangers tell a different story: that the cliff dwellers left because of drought and resource decimation (for example, wood--it takes a lot of wood to build kilns and fire pottery!), and that they spread out and mingled with the people who would later become the various Pueblo cultures throughout the region. I think this is a better story--one that emphasizes survival and continuance rather than a kind of romantic vanishing--so I'll be passing it along to my students next year.

We saw everywhere we went the evidence of their living: their houses...

(This is a series of doorways at Aztec Ruins (which has nothing to do with the Aztecs, by the way).)

(At Mesa Verde. You see T-shaped doorways at a lot of dwellings...)

(At Aztec Ruins. That is a 900-year-old ceiling, my friends, still intact.)

(Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde. What an amazing place!)

(This is at Hovenweep, one of my favorite dwelling sites...)

... and the things they made for everyday use that are beautiful as well as functional.

(On display at Mesa Verde.)
(I enjoyed seeing the ladles and pots and mugs...)

(I can't even tell you how much I love this seed jar...)

(This portion of the Edge of the Cedars museum includes an original ladder--foreground--and a display of pottery that has been seized from looters/collectors; sadly, it's a huge collection, and not even a fraction of what people have taken from dwelling sites.)

(This is a bag of woven cotton on display at Aztec Ruins. They had cotton! They were spinners and weavers!!!)

Check out some photos of a sandal here, and some mugs here. They made lots of mugs!

And, like us, they liked to adorn themselves with beautiful things.

I was inspired by these beautiful things. Even though the people worked very hard to survive, spending most of their time doing the work of procuring and preparing and storing food, they took time to make the things they used beautiful and meaningful.

Theme three: Karen finds yarn (fiber) everywhere she goes
When I became a knitter a few years ago, my family started joking that if you plop me down in any city/town in the U.S., I will find the yarn shop there. Now that I'm a spinner (and learning how to weave as well), this has meant that on my recent adventures I find evidence of spinning and weaving--humans using plant and animal fibers--everywhere I go.

In their spinning and rope-making and weaving, the Ancestral Puebloans made use of yucca, cattail, cotton, and other (more unusual) fibers...

(Hey, I have a nearly endless supply of hair... I wonder if I could learn to spin it??)

They even made blankets of yucca and turkey feathers (can you imagine how soft and warm that would be?). (I thought I had a photo of one, but I can't find it in my file--?)

... and they wove using MACAW feathers!

(The museum tag for this piece reads: "Object: Macaw Feather Sash. Date: A.D. 1150. Location: Canyonlands National Park. Materials: Abert's squirrel, macaw feathers on yucca cord, leather ties." The maker must have been a very valued and important person in the village!)

Of course, when we were in the Navajo nation, there was LOTS of yarn in evidence, as the Navajo are famous weavers, spinners, and dyers. Here are a few photos along the way:

(Yes, that would be a WALL OF YARN at the gift shop at Canyon de Chelly. I am proud to say I controlled myself--but only because I realized the brand of yarn is one I can get online.)

In Albuquerque I was really excited to see this in a restaurant where we had breakfast:

(Sorry the labels are not readable!)

It's a kind of chart of how the colors in the weaving are derived from natural sources--mostly plant parts--with a tiny loom in the middle.

(Here's another one, this time at the museum at the Anasazi Heritage Center. You can also buy one of these at the gift shop at Monument Valley.)

There was a full-size loom displayed at Mesa Verde, just around the corner from beautiful rugs for sale:

(Also at Mesa Verde: loom and...

... yarn and spindle!)

And and the Anasazi Heritage Center, there was a hands-on loom with directions about how to weave the Navajo way:
(This was meant for children, I think, but OF COURSE I gave it a try...)

The upright loom is very different "machinery" from the rigid heddle loom I'm learning to weave on, but the concepts are the same. I loved the feel of the well-worn beater--it seemed like lots of hands had polished it. The Center had lots of interactive displays and ways to learn, so I would recommend it highly if you're out that way...

This is a long post, dear readers; I'd like to continue describing my adventures in another post--one where I tell you about how I did stuff I was scared of doing, and about the rock art I saw in various places, about seeing iconic western landscapes, about the privilege of visiting sacred places, about being in another nation... For now, here's one more photo out the window:

(These are the mountains on the edges of Albuquerque, over the wing of the airplane home!)

May you enjoy some beauty in your adventures today!



  1. Hankashi Karen, Great photos! Brings back a lot of memories when visiting some of the same sites "back in the day". Are you planning to come to sun dance this year? I just got back from staffing a Chicago Mankind Project Training in the Fox-Illinois River area of Illinois. Whereas the dryness of the 4 corners is striking, we surely have had a lot of rain. The thunder beings, wakinyan has been busy here :-) I will give Patrick a call one of these days to see if he and Dexter have any interest in joining our Minnesota Camp. I can add you to our "sweaty people" MN Tiospaye list if you are interested. We are now planning how to set up our camp and feed ourselves and the people, itchay wichasha, in a good way. All the best.

  2. Sic'esi Tom, it's good to hear from you!

    Yes, we are planning to come this year, and YES, we would be really grateful to join you guys if you have room for us... I know that Patrick was hoping to spend some time with you, so he will be really happy you're going to be there.

    More soon!