The day had finally arrived, we were leaving Texas. It had been a big beautiful journey full of mighty skies, friendly people, colorful experiences, and the biggest, ever, gas stations. Even despite all that and the 75 mph speed limit, it didn’t seem like we could get out fast enough.
We arrived in New Mexico in the early afternoon. Just across the southern border, we followed the Guadelupe Mountain range up into Whites City, NM where the famous Carlsbad Caverns rest hundreds of feet below the ground. We had just enough time to tour a strange grocery store/arcade/retail/museum in town before we needed to find a place to park the van for the night. The Wikipedia page claimed that there were 7 people living in Whites City and it had appeared that those 7 people were quite busy with the strange tourist store, hotel, restaurant, gas station (no diesel), and RV park. The town stood at the entrance of the road up to Carlsbad Caverns and thrived and survived soley on the fact that thousands of people each year scuffled through that cooridor desperately in need of an engraved pocket knife or commemorative shot glass.
We asked the young man behind the counter the location of the best campground. He guided us in a direction and we headed that way. One hour later we were lost as hell and cussing that young man through our gritted teeth. We eventually located a BLM spot off the highway and settled in for the night. The moon was brilliant that night.
Early the next morning we drove thru the rocky, steep Walnut Canyon to Carlsbad Caverns. Instead of taking the elevator down to the caves, we chose to take the natural entrance and walked for over an hour through gigantic rooms until finally reaching “the big room.” The trail wound its way though statuesque rock formations, crystal clear ponds of filtered water, deep dark cooridors, and underneath massive hanging rock chandeliers. It was a memorable sight to see.
After the Caverns we continued our journey north to White Sands National Monument.
While Liz and I have been traveling the US we’ve found ourselves naturally gravitating towards cliff dwellings. It started when we stumbled upon the cliff dwellings of the ancient Mogollon in the Gila National Forest. Liz and I marveled at the fact that the mortar they used in their construction of the 700 year old buildings looked as though it had been applied yesterday. While the nearby walls that had been “restored” by the parks service showed signs of fatigue, cracking and failing in front of our eyes. The ancient rock walls that had been undisturbed by modern man stood strong and proud still performing the simple but crucial task of protecting its inhabitants from the harsh elements.
As we moved northwest we discovered site after site of previous ancient inhabitants. We noticed a few differences but mostly the similarities in each location we explored. Each location of people utilized the natural elements in the surrounding landscape. Locating a south facing cliff allowed for the sun to penetrate deep into the cave in the cool winter months while casting a shadow on the inhabitants during the hot summer months. Several of the dwellings we visited made use of the fact that water would pour over the shelves of rock directly over head. The people of that time created rain collection systems using bowls and pots to catch the precious resource.
We visited an old Sinagua site located in Walnut Canyon just outside Flagstaff, Arizona. Here, the truly impressive aspect was the focus around community. The island trail took us around a huge natural rock formation that housed dozens of homes and community spaces. As we made our way around the trail we looked out across the canyon and spotted literally dozens of more remains built with stone walls nestled in the pockets of the cliffs. The Hopi people tell stories of their ancestors voices still being heard thru the canyon and how they built their homes close to each other so they could remember to work and care for one another.
The natural wonder of the area was with each winding turn of the canyon new vegetation flourished. Rather it be a dry, sunny side of the canyon where cactus and desert plants grew or a dark shady portion of the canyon where tall pines and bushes were able to grow. Each turn brought a new category of natural beauty that was impressive even today.
Overall Liz and I were left with the feeling that the people that had once inhabited the cliff dwellings had it figured out. They had everything they needed; water, food, community, protection, recreation you name it. Liz and I couldn’t help but notice that in todays society we still seem to lust for such basic needs. Sure we’ve accomplished amazing feats of engineering and science but a large population of us still struggle for basic human needs. It goes without saying that its completely necessary to pay attention to these lessons passed down from our ancient ancestors. In a time where the earth is undergoing major change, we believe that some of these skills and needs will be pushed to the forefront of our daily lives and the sooner we pay attention and apply them the healthier we all will be.
In short. Turn the lights out when you leave a room, ride a bike and hug your damn neighbor.