Trailing the Ancients:MesaVerde & Canyon de Chelly
Trip Start Apr 06, 2009
21Trip End Jun 30, 2009
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It was very hard to leave Arches but Mesa Verde greeted us with its sort of odd ominous presence that looks like a huge table top looking over the landscape.
This view from our campsite made up for the parking lot that was our home for a few days. The kids were happy to have a pool and minigolf & easy access showers & laundry were a plus too.
Indigenous people groups have migrated to this place for thousands of years. Of all the parks we have been to, Mesa Verde has the most well-preserved ruins that you can actually walk into & it gives you a window in time to imagine what life was like around 500 - 1200 A.D. throughout the dessert Southwest. The park is really worth visiting if you are ever in this neck of the woods. The guides really bring alive the lifestyle and the spiritual connection between the land and the people who have lived here. One of our guides at one point used the word "we" making the connection that as human beings and as Americans we all can feel a kinship with the people who lived here and made a home here. It is interesting to think about the human saga and how "we" have migrated around the globe and splintered off into different people groups which eventually re-encountered oone another. Of course that re-encountering shows the down side of the human condition... after a while the story seems the same whether between different Indian peoples competing for the same land and resources or between the native peoples & the Spanish explorers, Morman missionaries, or the US government. The endurance & resiliency of the human spirit & our collective will to survive & discover is what stands out most though when you visit these places.
Take a look at these ruins which were Anasazi cliff dwellings built around 1200 AD & then mysteriously deserted around 1300. I have to admit that these cliffs were looking very appealing compared to our dirty, hot RV parked in the RV parking lot. Did you know that most native peoples lived in matrilineal clans? Not sure if Tony, my brother-in-law, & Ross could hack it, but living as a Nielsen clan in a cliff dwelling has some appeal. Throughout our time in both Mesa Verde & Canyon de Chelley, I did find myself noting the downside of the modern individualistic way of life we now lead. There is something very appealing about belonging to a people group & working together to make a place in the world.
Highlights from Mesa Verde: driving the RV up the Mesa, visiting Cliff Palace-it is magical!, playing mini-golf, swimming in the pool, Emily sneaking in a run along the cliffs to some amazing rock art (the square spiral turning into the circular spiral was there...), & the kids sitting drawing cool artifacts in a museum.
Canyon de Chelly, where we went next, felt like a continuation of what we learned and experienced in Mesa Verde, but Canyon de Chelly is part of the Navajo Nation so you really get the feel of the continuity with the past. The overseer of the campground we stayed at was Navajo gave us some good local color of what it was like to grow up on this land.
Highlights from Canyon de Chelly: on the way here, stopping & standing in 4 states, the kids bonding with a dog named "Boy" who roamed around the campground (he made us miss Sparky... it was a very sweet connection that made us feel happy & feel at home at the campground), a guided hike/jeep tour through the canyon seeing a bunch of cliff dwellings & rock art & getting stuck a few times in the jeep crossing streams, watching the full moon rise sitting on top of our RV, & lastly attending a Navajo church on Sunday led by a husband & wife minister team.
On the way to church, Luke says "Why would any Native Americans want to go to a Christian church?" I have to admit that the same ? was on my mind... and I was sort of glad to see that Luke is thinking about things that he has been seeing. The service was a cultural experience & really touched all of us. The people approach God through their deepest needs & there is an intensity & also a deep joy in their worship. Both ministers exuded that joy of spirit that comes through having met Christ when you get to the end of your rope. Luke's ? is still very valid. We debriefed together on the service. For me, I had a sense of how poorly the church has done at various points over the course of two millennium in safeguarding the essence of Christian spirituality (understatement of the year), & on a more personal level what touched me during the service was the preciousness & tender lovingkindness of Christ who continues to connect with the human spirit, beyond culture & time, in the same "ground floor" of the soul where we are all very needy & human.
There was not a trace of bitterness in any native American person we have encountered. What we have all in varying degrees received & learned from them & their spirituality is the deep inter-connectedness they lived out with the natural world-they & we are "people of the earth." The Creator has been so good to us in creating these beautiful sacred places for us to enjoy & find healing & refreshment for our souls. (quoting from a Hopi man at a native dance performance) The land was & is alive with Spirit.
Canyon de Chelly & Mesa Verde were not as stunningly beautiful as the other parks we visited, but they did leave their imprint. We don't have to survive off the land like the native peoples did, but the very intimate life-giving connection they shared with the earth has something to teach us about being human & living in harmony with creation.
Signing off with a Navajo blessing said when saying good bye to someone:
Go in Beauty