Monday, June 10, 2013

Behind the Bear's Ears

Before I leave the topic of the brave new world of genetic engineering on the back-burner, I just wanted to share an exciting story about using this technology to potential heal our eastern forests: restoring the Chestnut Tree.
Edge of Cedars, ceremonial pottery
Summer has arrived in the Four Corners, and the little bit of snow left on the La Platas is fading fast.  We had ventured into Cedar Mesa country in Utah, and stopped in Blanding to tour the wonderful museum at Edge of the Cedars.  The museum is full of interesting artifacts, including a thousand year old sash made from macaw feathers.  Outside is the ancient Anasazi pueblo, and just beyond is one of my favorite "modern art" pieces.  We had learned of it at a campfire talk in Chaco canyon led by famous Ranger Cornucopia.  He discussed Chacoan archaeo-astronomy, and then mentioned this modern sculpture designed as part experiment.  It stuck in my mind as a wonderful idea, so it was excellent to see it in person:  Inspired by the Sun Dagger and other interesting archaeological sites, an artist had decided to create a modern timepiece using ancient pueblo motifs: meet the Sun Marker.
Sun Marker

This sculpture is designed to get people thinking about ways to mark the passing of time using the sun.  Is it time to plant?  Time to hunt?  Winter Solstice?  When archaeologists discover a potential astronomical alignment within a site, it is sometimes difficult to be certain what ways the Ancients may have used those alignments.  Were some coincidental?  Are the often more to the calendar than meets the eye?  After completing the sculpture, students had found more ways to use the Sun Marker than the artist realized, such as predicting lunar events.

It was fun playing with the interactive archive at the museum, and the pottery designs are inspiring to me.  Maybe one day I'll take up pottery?  After walking like an Anasazi, we traipsed over to the Blanding Dinosaur Museum.  The entrance is filled with three enormous petrified trees found nearby and one of the largest ammonites I had ever seen.  There are lots of interesting replicas and specimens, including a mosasaur.  However, the most interesting thing was learning about the contentious cladistics behind the evolution of birds.
Cave on Comb Ridge

Off we went to my favorite formation in southern Utah, Comb Ridge.  The previous weekend, we had visited a few granaries, cliff houses, and a huge cave.  Each time I visit, I have a unique experience, as if I'm gleaning a little understanding of the metaphysics of Anasazi life just from osmosis off the fluid sands turned to white sandstone.  I often wonder what these canyons were like before they were ransacked by pothunters, but maybe these little pieces I find are somehow better for myself - leaving room to merge my imagination with history and geology.
Ancient Anasazi Granary

This time at the Ridge, I hiked again past a strange landscape of stones, cactus, and wildflowers that led past a few looted granaries and finally to an expansive overlook.  I gaze out and the sweeping landscape as a wind gust blows my hat off.  I look down to pick up my hat and find a tiny sherd of black-on-white pottery in the red sand.  As I trace the fading pattern, a raven flies over head and "cahs" as he barrel-rolls past me.  I think I'm turning Anasazi.
Comb Ridge, Utah

From there, we drive near the entrance of Natural Bridges National Monument, a place we had visited Auto-tour style several years ago.  This time, we took a dirt road that ends up winding up to Elk Park in the Manti La-Sal Forest and goes right between the Bears Ears.  I recall reading about a big site behind the Ears in the excellent book House of Rain, and sure enough, it's there.  I take the remaining daylight's gift to huff up the eastern Ear to see another wonderful view and unexpectedly stumble across a USGS benchmark.

After logging a few geocaches, we camp out near Butt's Point among ponderosa, aspen, fir, juniper, and pinyon trees all trying to decide who belongs in the forest.  The following day, we make the steep hike down to Three Finger Ruins (named for the massive natural pillars guarding the entrance to the side canyon).  I was running out of time, so didn't make the hike up to the ruins, but on the way, found a spring gushing from the hillside.  Cool, clear water in a desert canyon welling up is nothing but miraculous, so I take several deep drinks (ignoring the modern voice in my head telling me to treat the water) and refill my canteen.  Ancient cultures around the world, even in rainy Europe, considered springs sacred.  Now see this desert spring from Anasazi eyes.
Abandoned Kiva

The canyons now are getting hot as summer has arrived.  In keeping with the Bear theme, we went to Bear Creek in Telluride, Colorado.  More on that trip later.

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