The Anasazi Ruins of Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon
You’re familiar with the patter: These ancient people had an advanced civilization, and they suddenly disappeared. What ever happened to them? Actually, they didn’t go very far: You can find their descendants among the Hopi and the twenty-three tribes of Pueblo Indians in New Mexico, ranging from Taos to Acoma to Zuñi. What made them move from Chaco Canyon and the other Anasazi communities of the Four Corners, such as the ones at Mesa Verde, Betatakin, Chimney Rock, and Keet Seel? Some time around the 13th century, many of the local rivers dried up; and the Anasazi were forced to move.
I ran into the same type of “mystery journalism” in Mexico. What ever happened to the Mayans? These brilliant peoples inherited all those wonderful ruins such as the ones at Chichén Itzá and Uxmal—and now they’re all gone, or are they? All I know is that there are millions of Maya still inhabiting Yucatán, Chiapas, and much of Central America—and many of them still speak Mayan.
One of the reasons I want to go to New Mexico is to see Anasazi ruins. The best site is Chaco Canyon, of course, but I’ll be traveling this time with Martine, who doesn’t like long washboarded dirt roads and sleeping in campgrounds. So I will try to see some of the more peripheral Anasazi cities such as Chimney Rock, Salmon, or Aztec. (No, they are not related to the Aztecs of Mexico.)
No doubt I will be seeing thousands of Anasazi, or at least their descendants.
Figure from the Zuñi Shalako Ceremonial
I will always think of the American Southwest as Indian Country. The high points of my visits to Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado were encounters with the various Indian tribes that inhabit that region. I was always conscious of stepping outside my culture into something radically different and in many ways spiritually superior. Yet I stand very much on the outside looking in.
Among the peoples I have visited are the following:
- Navajo, the most populous tribe in the Southwest, whose reservation encompasses parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Their capital, Window Rock, AZ, is just over the border from New Mexico. Martine and I enjoy listening to their radio station, KTNN, AM 660. Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton’s The Navaho is an authoritative work about the culture.
- Hopi, surrounded on all sides by the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, consists of three mesas, which include one of the oldest continuously inhabited villages in North America at Old Oraibi. Don C. Talayesva’s Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian is a great resource. Some day, I would like to spend more time on the Hopi reservation.
- Zuñi, who call themselves the Ashiwi, are the largest of the New Mexico pueblos. Unfortunately, the only time I visited with them, they were down on tourists because someone had profaned one of their ceremonials. Frank Hamilton Cushing wrote several useful studies of the tribe over a hundred years ago which are still in print.
- Acoma is the other pueblo with claims to be the oldest continuously settled village in North America. Their mesa-top “Sky City” is one of the most incredible places to visit within Indian Country.
- Taos, north of Santa Fe, is a stunning multi-story pueblo that reminds me of the ancient Anasazi ceremonial centers at Chaco Canyon and other nearby locations.
When I go to New Mexico in a couple of months, the high points, once again, will be these native peoples. Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Bat Masterson—all have some interest to me, but not early so much. Stay tuned to this website for further developments.
The Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial
Gallup, New Mexico, in the 21st century would be nowhere without the Indians. Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo Nation, is a short hop away across the state line. Yet, at the same time, Gallup is a dangerous place for Indians. The problem is that, with only 22,000 inhabitants, Gallup has 39 liquor licenses, or about 19 per 10,000 people—much larger than most big cities.
The Indians come to Gallup, get drunk, and frequently die. According to a 2015 article from the Indian Country Media Network:
In 2014, 36 unnatural deaths were recorded for Natives in or around the Gallup area. Almost all were alcohol related or caused from being homeless. Seventeen of those deaths were caused by motorists killing pedestrians attempting to cross major thoroughfares or I-40. Nearly all the victims were Native. This winter, too, has begun with record-setting deaths from exposure in McKinley County—12 so far; all the victims were Native.
Another lethal practice is for drunks in cold weather to lie down on the warmer asphalt highway, fall asleep, and get run over.
I have always seen Indians of the Southwest as a national treasure. Alas, it is a treasure that we have compromised by destroying their culture and leaving them to fend for themselves in the cold cruel world of contemporary America.
Hatch Chiles Roasting
After what I posted yesterday, I thought I’d say why I’m really going to New Mexico this summer. When you live in a particular climate zone for most of your life, you yearn for the foods of the region. As a not quite but almost native Californian, that means corn and chiles. And the best chiles in the world come from New Mexico. The joke is that there is a state question: “Red or green?” If you can’t make up your mind, there’s another answer: “Christmas” means a mixture of red and green. I will probably switch between red and green from meal to meal.
There is a nifty local restaurant site called Roadfood.Com. Take a look at the restaurants and dishes they recommend for New Mexico by clicking here. (Compare with what’s available in your state.)
Now poor Martine isn’t going to be able to eat any chiles, but she likes hamburgers and chicken and beans; so there’ll be plenty of generic American food to keep her happy.
The Frontier Restaurant Near the UNM Campus
Fortunately, there are some parts of the United States which have their own cuisine. Of particular interest to me are the shellfish of New England, the anything from Louisiana, the fried catfish and BBQ of the Southeast, and the chiles of New Mexico. All are American food at its best. Originally, I hailed from Ohio. Other than great home-cooked Hungarian food, I can’t say much good about the whole state.
They Were Bound to Change the Name
When Martine and I have finished taking the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad connecting Durango with Silverton, we will head down to Gallup, NM, perhaps stopping for a few hours at Window Rock, AZ, the capital of the Navajo Nation.The road connecting Farmington, NM with Gallup used to be called U.S. 666, aka “The Devil’s Highway.” A few years back, the highway changed its number to the less apocalyptic U.S. 491.
Even 491 has a curious Biblical resonance. When Peter asked Jesus how many times shall he forgive his brother who sins against him. According to Matthew 18:22, Jesus answered him, “ I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Let’s see, that multiplies out to 490. In the 1960s, Vilgot Sjoman came out with a Swedish film entitled 491, presumably referring to the end of someone’s patience at being excessively sinned against.
Highway 491 with Ship Rock in the Distance
When we take Highway 491 née 666, we will pass Ship Rock, sacred to the Navajos (see above photo). I’ve always wanted to take this route from Farmington to Gallup, but I usually traveled in the past via the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which is my favorite destination in New Mexico. However, like many of the best places in New Mexico, I would not venture to take a rental car down the washboarded access road. That also goes for the Bisti Badlands and the De-Na-Zin Wilderness, all in the same general area.
Had I but world enough and time, however, ….
One of 27 Giant Radio Antennas at the VLA
One of the places that Martine and I would like to see on our trip to New Mexico is the Karl G. Janski Very Large Array some 50 miles west of Socorro along U.S. Route 60. It is part of the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). If you are of a sci-fi turn of mind, you might think its related to SETI, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence—but actually it’s for taking images of radio waves directed at the earth. For some of the images created by the VLA, click here.
The twenty-seven 230-ton radio antennas are in one of four Y-shaped configurations and can be moved into position along rails using a special locomotive. Tours are available (we plan to take one).
Although there are many observatories in the United States, many are adversely affected by air pollution. The data from the various VLA radio antennas can be combined to give the resolution of an antenna 22 miles across with the sensitivity of a dish 422 feet in diameter.
I expect to be swept off my feet.
The Church at Chimayó, New Mexico
France has Lourdes; Portugal has Fatima; Argentina has Luján; Mexico has Guadalupe; and the United States has the Santuario de Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas, commonly known as El Santuario de Chimayó near Santa Fe, New Mexico. The little church is only 60 feet (18 meters) long and 24 feet (7.3 meters) wide. Yet, especially during Holy Week, some 30,000 pilgrims are in attendance.
The dirt floor has been known to have miraculous properties. Visiting pilgrims take some of the dirt for themselves or friends and relatives who are unable to visit. The church replaces the dirt, to the tune of 20 or 30 tons a year, from neighboring hillsides. The Catholic Church makes no claim as to the miraculous properties of the so-called sacred dirt.
Martine and I plan to visit Chimayo during our upcoming trip to Mexico. Maybe the sacred dirt will cure my diabetes. Or not.