Saturday, August 21, 2010

For Those Who Live in Cliff Walls

In Mesa Verda you can see one of the most impressive villages in the entire world. Not impressive due to its shape or size, but because of its location. Long since abandoned the ruins still remain of a village built not on top of a cliff, over looking the valley, nor even down below in the shadows of protective giants. No, here, the village lives within the very walls itself.

The cliffs have caves in them – all cliffs do. But rather than just look at the caves hundreds of feet up these people decided – over six hundred years ago – to move in. Now these natives were not the sort to just live in a cave with a small fire, or a skin rug. No – these were the type who had developed the art of brick making and masonry. Just because they were going to live in a cliff didn't mean they would abandon these traditions.

I saw my first dwelling as we toured the Mesa Top Loop – a self guided driving tour allowing for views of the area. We had our first tour, the Cliff Palace, at ten o'clock but were warned to leave an hour and a half early to make it on time – there was much construction on the roads. Of course, there was no construction today, and so we showed up an hour early. This did allow for our exploration of the loop though.

There were a number of remains – houses built on top of the Mesa, dug within the earth. There was also a sun palace – not much to look at from the side, just well laid bricks. From above, it was something though. A labyrinth without doors. It is said ladders used to connect the rooms, but that is unknown. I am surprised no look out tower existed, as this site is best seen from above.

Then there was my first glance of cliff palace. From far across the gorge I saw into the cliff, what looked like a medieval castle. Towers, and rooms, and large stones all laid together. This was not just a hut, not just a small dwelling. This was an entire village. The natives climbed straight up the sheer wall, hand groves carved out, still visible today, to reach their city.

This was, perhaps, one of the most impressive things I'd seen all year – if only because I couldn't imagine it existing at all. What type of people choose to live in a cliff? How does that become the best solution? And yet there it was. Without the aid of any modern conveniences they set up their lives here. How did they even get the stone required to build?

Soon we would be beginning our tour, walking down into the ruins themselves.

Wood still remained, sticking out from the towers, indicating where the second floor would have begun. From my very limited knowledge of early castles, this was what I was looking at. But, once more, built into a cave within a cliff wall high above the valley floor, and far below the plateaued top.

All number of homes, storage buildings, and other religious areas existed, and still do – to this day. With the tourists crawling around, I tried to picture the village in full life. Fifty of us were gathered, one third of those who would have lived here in the days before. There was room – lots of room – for everyone. As I walked out of the ruins, only later to come to the more impressive Balcony House, I just could not wrap my head around what I was experiencing.

Paintings within the walls can still be seen by shoving your head, body contorted, through a small window and looking up. I wonder what the person who discovered this site thought – the first non-native, as these buildings have never truly been forgotten – still playing into legends and tales. I can only imagine they would have been found with a sense of impressed awe, and a feeling of, oh great – now I have to get up there.

Small lizards scurried around the rock, as we climbed a thirty foot ladder out of the ruins, back to solid, level, ground.

Before heading back to our camp, it was decided that we should take the three mile hike to petroglyph carved in the walls.

Three miles – it shouldn't have taken two hours, but with all the ups and downs, and not wanting to fall, it wasn't as fast as it could have been. And I wanted to set out without any water. It's lucky I have someone as forward thinking as Katherine to tell me this would be a terrible idea – and to carry the water too.

As we made our way past rock structures, and views over the sunlit vista we were distressed by people passing us the other way – this was a full loop trail. Foot prints continued to go in both directions. It made me wonder if they knew how long this walk really was, and bailed not wanting to continue on. But we would not be like them – we would go until the end, which really wasn't all that far. And the return part of the loop was all on top. For those who turned back, they were fools – it would have been easier to just press on to the end.

There at the half way point were the petroglyphs. I'd seen some of them before, but still they were interesting, I took pictures, and we continued on. The walk was the important part – the carvings, just something to give a small sense of purpose to our hike.

Driving back to our tent, we somehow missed a turn and ended up outside the park. Well, since we were here, we might as well fill up on gas for 2.89 a gallon, rather than paying the 3.30 they were charging inside the park. Perhaps we'd saved rather than lost by making the wrong turn.

Back at base, we consumed our beverages of choice, played some ukulele – our singing no doubt annoying others, but then the screams of their children were no delights to be sure either. And finally we went to an oral narrative talk where a ranger, adopted by the Hopi people told us a tale.

Pretty much it goes like this – god creates the first world, people are bad. It is destroyed in ice. God creates a second world, it goes bad – destroyed in fire. Third world goes bad, destroyed in water. We are now in the fourth world, on the verge of destruction.

Here's the deal with the story – god is an ass. This native god is worse than the Christian one. I've always had problems with a higher power wiping out the world like in that science fiction tale with the giant robot that lands of earth. Doing it once, killing all people, and all animals (fish getting a free pass) really pisses me off. But this native one doing it three times? Maybe the original listeners and tellers of the tale don't read deeply into it – but I would rebel against this god forever and always.

First – when people die their souls go on to new bodies. Second three times? If god made the world three times, and we were now in a fourth, and things still went bad – maybe it's time god looks at himself. Maybe he's doing something wrong, leading to these terrible worlds. Maybe he should step up his game, rather than blaming the people. And if the souls carry on into new bodies in the new world, well what does he expect? If the souls didn't do what he wanted in one world, why would they change in the next?

Four times he has screwed up his experiment, and now he wants to kill us all again. I say screw that – and, since it was said we've past the cusp, it's too late. Even if we do good now, we're doomed. All because this god doesn't like what he sees. Well forget you native god, I like my life – you can just go to any other planet you'd choose and rebuild there. Leave us alone! Clearly you don't know what you're doing – not let us try and figure it out for ourselves.

Another fun fact – when the world is in times of trouble a story teller dressed in white comes to us to explain how we should be living, and point out what we're doing wrong. You know what could have helped? Having that story teller come before we're doomed – maybe, say, at the beginning. Maybe having the rules of not being destroyed in fire, ice, water, and whatever is next would have been helpful before we're about to die. Just sayin'.

Now maybe this ranger told it wrong, even though she did have a story telling stick given to her by a woman, “down there.” Or maybe it's just a terrible tale of our own doom. I don't know – but I was not a happy sleeper that night, knowing of the coming end.

On the plus side, we saw lots and lots of deer.

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