Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Few Things

Saw the new Indiana Jones movie. I hope I'm not spoiling anything when I say it was good but not better than any of the other Indiana Jones movies. There were a few moments that required a massive "suspension of disbelief" effort, but that's Indy for you. I will say this, though: If George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg think they can rejuvenate the Indiana Jones series by focusing on Shia Lebouf's character: think again. The dude's no Harrison Ford, and without Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones is just a silly formula.


I suppose I should be outraged over Hillary Clinton's Kennedy assassination remarks, but I'm not. Clinton has already proven in this campaign that she has all the character of a bottle fly. She's been in "say anything" mode for months now, and this certainly isn't the most odious thing that's been said. I also sense that the true source of the outrage isn't the RFK comments, per se, but rather the fact that she is pig-headedly continuing her campaign.

I mean, it may still be possible that Hillary Clinton gets the Democratic nomination for president, but I don't think it's possible for her to win it.


When my credit balance with my satellite TV provider is all used up, I'm canceling it. Aside from real time sporting events, I don't watch TV anymore. I get my fill at work for the most part, and anything else I can either get from Netflix or Bittorrent. Why pay $60 a month for content chopped up into commercial blocks when I can get the same content, not chopped up, cheaper and easier? Reality TV isn't that good.


When I got back home from vacation, I picked some spinach I grew in the garden, steamed it, and ate it. It was GOOD. So good that the next day I went to the grocery store and got some fresh spinach. I steamed it, too, but I couldn't eat it. My home-grown spinach was much, MUCH better. The store bought stuff? Crap.


I don't think Jillian Barberie, Dan Marino, or Larry the Cable Guy lost any weight on the Nutrisystem diet. At any rate, the "results not typical" disclaimer should give you a clue.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

The Anasazi
The Cliff Dwellings of Mesa Verde
Cliff Palace Detail
Balcony House
Step Spruce Tree House
Far View Sites
The Chaco Incident
Santa Fe
A Man Called Horse

Far View Sites

Atop Mesa Verde, there used to be a little farming village. Here's a bit of Pipe Shrine House.

Up here, the kivas are larger than down on the cliffs.

This is Mummy Lake, a reservoir that served as an important water source for the Far View village.

A Man Called Horse

In a campground outside Santa Fe, a man called Horse made our acquaintance. He was very friendly, greeting us as we arrived and showing us a hidden stockpile of firewood. But then he stopped by the camp, and a little while later, he’d come by again. He stayed friendly, but each time he came back he arrived with escalating degrees of drunkenness and he began to find himself more unwelcome. Eventually he wandered off and hassled the ladies in the next camp over for a while. They sent him away and then he presumably went and passed out in his tent by himself.

Santa Fe

It’s not like I remember it. The Woolworth’s is now the “Five and Dime” store and it’s full of all the usual tourist crap, mugs, postcards, signs, shotglasses. The other stores are art emporiums, a few restaurants that steer towards the trendy. When I was a kid, we stumbled on this restaurant in some back alley between adobe buildings. They served chips and salsa and that authentic New Mexican style green chili I love. The place we went to wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that mythical place of my youth.

When we were there, there was a poorly attended rally for Tibet, with country and western songs and an obviously caucasian guy with a great tan who called himself the White Gandhi. Most of the crowd, however, were tourists and street people, and neither audience appeared to have any interest in saving Tibet. (If Tibet could be saved by playing hacky sack, however…)

Not really in the mood to shop, we went to church, to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. When we walked in, I blessed myself at the holy water station and it didn’t burn my skin. As a holy sanctuary, it did nothing for me, but as a work of art, it was amazing, merging Spanish and Native American sensibilities with color and grace.

Later on, we found a campsite outside Santa Fe and met a man named Horse.

The Chaco Incident

I should have listened to Ronald Reagan. Trust…but verify. When my Mom’s Garmin told us to turn right in Farmington, heading down what turned out to be an isolated farm access road, I should have looked at the map and overruled that suggestion. Garmin speaks with an urgent but gentle voice that you can’t ignore and so we followed her. Followed her into hell.

Realizing something wasn’t right, I looked at the map and discovered she was leading us exactly where I didn’t want to go. The back way to Chaco, 30 some miles of dirt road that the Park Service describes on their website as “very rough to impassable.” I would have preferred going down through Nageezi, with the turn off having 8 miles of paved road and 13 miles of “rough road.” Yeah, fewer miles and I’ll take a “rough” to one that’s “very rough to impassable” any day. Miss Garmin disagreed.

After we got off Highway 57, Miss Garmin, until then a trusted companion, started telling us to “turn right” on roads that didn’t even exist. The road was indeed “very rough,” washboarded out, more rock than dirt. We jumbled along, confused as Garmin as to where we were and where we were going. At some point, one of those rocks sliced a gash an inch long in my rear tire. I panicked. The tire was going flat. I didn’t know if the spare was good or if I had a jack or a tire iron. I hadn’t planned on a catastrophic tire malfunction. And I was ill-prepared. I had a jack, and a tire iron, and a spare, but the spare had a spike in it and was flatter than the other tire.

We were fucked.

The road stretched out on either side of us. We were close to the canyon, just outside of it’s first tiny rim. Fajada Butte stood out in the distance, a beacon to weary travels for over a thousand years now. A house lay probably a few hundred yards off the road, a last resort at best. I didn’t want to get shot by some Navajo who didn’t like tourists. And my tire was choked.

We flagged some departing fellow travelers down. No one had any spares and they were mostly rentals. One carload of people were really friendly and offered to turn back and flag a ranger. They returned with good news. They had called one, and he had air. It wasn’t much, but at least it would get us into the park, where we could beg, borrow, and steal some kind of solution. I paced the truck waiting for the ranger, concerned now only about the tire. All thoughts of ancient stone-builders and their strange culture disappeared.

The ranger came out and had some air. His first tank didn’t work, but the second did, albeit slower and not as well. We pumped up the tire and he said we could probably go by the maintenance shack and get topped off. Hopes of a tire patch kit were in there somewhere, but at that moment, hopes were dim. We limped over to the visitor center, where I went in wearing nothing but a wife-beater and a sunburn, and paid the $8 entry fee. I told the ranger about our predicament, and they were already coordinating the help. A nice lady ranger name Naniki (sp?) took us to the maintenance shack and gave us access to the air machine. It became apparent that even that wasn’t going to work. The slow leak wouldn’t get out of the dirt road, much less to the next town that could fix a tire, a whole hour away. Naniki went into action and summoned a fellow ranger, Brad, who was enjoying a day off at his little condo and also had a tire patch kit. Thanks to Brad, we made it out of there.

The campground was full, so we’d have to lodge elsewhere anyway. The tire fiasco had carved precious hours out of the day and we were all too exhausted to even make a drive-by on the 9 mile paved loop. In retrospect, I wish we would have. At least we could have seen what we drove all that way to see. I could have taken pictures out of the window and if we made the loop, we’d know the tire would hold.

But we just split. The tire did hold, even on the rough dirt road, and we made it to Bloomfield, exhausted, stressed out and tired. We got a new tire, keeping the patched one as a spare, then checked into a hotel with a pool and full breakfast. We sat in the hot tub for a while before slinking off to a soft bed in an air conditioned room. The next morning, we loaded up on breakfast and struck out for Santa Fe with a brand new tire.

This was about all we saw of Chaco Canyon.

The Anasazi

I knew we were in trouble when the Park Ranger described the people who occupied Mesa Verde as the “Ancestral Puebloans.” We were standing over the cliff face, about to descend into the canyon for a tour of Balcony House, one of the dwellings built into an alcove high above the gorge floor by the people who, until recently, were known as the Anasazi. It’s a troublesome term, to be sure, but a convenient one. It’s not what they called themselves, if they indeed had a name for their culture, and the modern tribes descended from them find the word offensive. Derived from the Navajo word for “ancient enemy” or “enemy ancestors,” some people find it almost derogatory. Instead, they prefer the mouthful of “Ancestral Puebloans,” which sacrifices brevity and clarity for the sake of political correctness. But at some level, whatever we call them, the Anasazi, the Ancestral Puebloans, it will be incorrect and inexact. We’re talking about a culture that vanished from the earth over seven hundred years ago, leaving us with only the stone villages they built high in cliff faces and deep on the canyon floor and the vestigial traces in their descendents. They are not around to take offense at the shorthand and the tribes that claim the Anasazi as their ancestors have long moved on.

The Anasazi were dryland farmers, semi-ingenious ones. In Chaco Canyon, they were almost entirely dependent on storm run-off, corralling it along ditches and headgates to irrigate their crops on the alluvial plain of the canyon floor. At Mesa Verde, they used a similar system on top of the mesa, but also built a small stone-walled reservoir (now known as Mummy Lake) to collect and store water between rains. On the cliffs, they utilized seep springs, small pools of rock-washed water that collected in alcoves sprinkled along the face. They grew corn, beans, and squash, training the beans around the corn with the squash planted below, forming a canopy over the root system that prevented evaporation.

But in the thirteenth century, their civilization began to wane. The region was struck with a great drought that disrupted the way of life they had been cultivating for three hundred years. Arroyos cut through Chaco, lowering the water table. The people who had been living atop Mesa Verde in farmland villages began building nearly impenetrable fortresses in the cliffs, either out of fear of an outside enemy or an internal rebellion. As impressive as they are, Cliff Palace and Balcony House were built only about a hundred years before the abandonment. It’s the abandonment that most people are curious about. Where did they go? Why did they leave? These are interesting questions, yes, but if you probe deeper, there are more interesting questions. What kept them together for four hundred years? What drew them to Chaco and inspired them to create roads across the desert, arrow-straight and aligned with outlying villages? Why did they gather in the round underground rooms called kivas and what did they do there? Who was in charge of the construction of their Great Houses, and why did the laborers acquiesce? These questions will probably go unanswered.

Spruce Tree House

The still-intact entrance into a kiva at Step Spruce Tree House.

More of the T-shaped doorways.

An Anasazi back alley?

Balcony House

Balcony House gets its name from the distinctive balconies extended from some of its buildings.

Inside the above building there is still plaster on the walls.

Looking over to the other side.

A Balcony House kiva, another Anasazi signature.

This is the only way out of Balcony House, a narrow passage between two boulders. I had to go through on my hands and knees and squeeze through sideways.

Cliff Palace Detail

I found it interesting that they built both under and above this huge boulder.

They even built into the second shelf of the cliff, with what looks to be some of the original adobe finish.

They used ladders to maneuver up and around the buildings.

An Anasazi trademark, the T-shaped door. These can be found at Chaco Canyon as well as other sites, but it's significance is up for some debate.

When you emerge from Cliff Palace, this is the view.

The Cliff-Dwellings Of Mesa Verde

Toward the end of the Anasazi's stay on Mesa Verde, they retreated to protected alcoves among the cliffs. The most famous is Cliff Palace.

But there's also Square Tower House, which you can see but can't get to.

And Step House, which is a bit more accessible.

In nearly every alcove along the mesa, there's a dwelling.