On our way home we planned to explore the ruins of the Anasazi people in Choco Canyon in a shift from geology to archeology. Five years ago, we discovered the cliff dwellings executed 1,100 years ago by the Anasazi at Mesa Verde in Colorado, which appeared to be suddenly abandoned in some cases with supper in the pot. Intrigued, Tom and I did some research of these ancient peoples; subsequently, I visited three similar ruins in Arizona. Tom and I learned that Chaco Canyon was the center of this widespread culture. We looked forward to seeing the 800 room Pueblo Bonito, begun in 919 BCE, which was described as the largest residential structure north of Mexico until an apartment building was constructed in the 1880’s in New York City. Our plan was destroyed by the weather; a heavy rain made driving to Choco Canyon impossible since it is accessible only by unpaved roads. Fortunately, we got lucky and improvised.
Dave had scheduled our first stop for Farmington, New Mexico; it was to be our Chaco jumping off point. Tom’s son Matt, our 2010 guide and the pilot for our 2015 aerial view, joined us to get to his winter flying job. Matt had developed an interest in Anasazi ruins as a guide and pilot; during our flight, he pointed out many ruins and shelters carved into rock walls of Utah’s Canyonlands. He said there was a well-preserved ruin close to Farmington which we could explore before dinner, the Aztec Ruins National Monument. Early pioneers credited many sites to Montezuma’s folks. Although we arrived just minutes before closing, we were able to quickly inspect the ruins and a completely reconstructed Great Kiva, in a light rain. In the National Parks Visitor Center, we gather information about the Anasazi and their cultural center from books and two DVD’s, one on the Aztec site and an excellent DVD by Bullfrog Production narrated by Robert Redford on Choco Canyon. Our understanding was helped by a visit the next morning after any hope of a Chaco visit was dashed by heavy rain, through a visit to the Salmon Ruins a cluster of Anasazi buildings and the historic homestead farm of a family that protected the ruin.
Kivas, a key feature of Anasazi ruins are subterranean, round ceremonial rooms which are still used today by the Hopi, Zuni and other Pueblo peoples the decedents of Anasazi. The Great Kiva at Aztec had been completely rebuilt exposing the intricate bridging and cribbing that support the roof and dirt covering. Kivas are entered by a ladder through a hole in the ceiling. In the floor of almost every Kiva is the sipapu, a hole that Pueblo people believe represents the path their ancestors used to immerge from the dark underworld into the sunlight. In addition, to the large communal Kiva, there are usually smaller Kivas probably used by clans or societies.
The Anasazi are farming ancestors of the Pueblo people growing corn, beans, and squash with digging sticks; they began living in caves and blow ground structures as early as 500 BCE and evolved into a sophisticated diverse culture along rivers and streams in the lower four Corners area. They made baskets and then pottery which became distinctive to the various areas. As a result of turquoise they flourished and during the apex of the culture in Choco canyon beginning in 900 BCE they built elaborate Great Houses similar to Pueblo Bonito with 800 plus room in structures of up to four stories with distinctive stone walls, decorations and courtyards, and kivas. These buildings required thousands of logs from 50 miles away cut and finished with square ends using only stone tools. Amazingly many of the walls are aligned to the 90-degree solar meridian and other structures are on lunar alignments. This Great House architectural style was duplicated throughout the Choco World in sites linked by a well-designed and maintained road system.
There are mysteries about Anasazi of Choco: Great Houses in Choco Canyon were not occupied, there are very few graves, and few waste dumps. They appear to be elaborate ceremonial backdrops. What would have motivated the limited population to expend so much time and energy in the construction of the Great Houses and road system? Was it a religion spread by missionaries? Did their corn production deplete the soil, or was it many years of drought, or disenchantment with the motivating principles of the culture/religion that causing them beginning in 1200 BCE to abandon their elaborate settlements to find fresh land to farm and evolve into today’s Pueblo people? Although we did not get to Choco canyon most of our curiosity about the Anasazi was satisfied and the mysteries that remain would not be answered by a visit.
On the road home, we had some interesting epicurean experience. Moab to Farmington featured two very different eating establishments; Lunch in Cortez Colorado was at “Pippo’s, typical of the type of place we Old Guys seek out. We had eaten at Pippo’s 5 years earlier, the fry cook was the same and bathroom still accessed by weaving through the kitchen between the stove and frig. That evening after the Aztec ruin we had the best meal of the trip at a place on the outskirts of Farmington in an elegant place with linen tablecloths, many forks, and crystal glasses. It was called simply “Sauce”. It was a Tuesday evening with seating for 40 or more, during our 2 hours we were the only customers. The Chef Owner Kathy Noonan personally served us three dirty old campers and Matt. On our way to Santa Fa, we had lunch in Cuba, New Mexico at El Bruno which was recommended by a friend of Dave’s. The Mexican food was very good with table side prepared guacamole in a pleasant southwestern atmosphere.
Santa Fa is one of our collective favorite places even in the pouring rain. We dined that night at Duel Brewing a local Brewpub with very good draft beer and eclectic décor. The rain had stopped the next day so we meandered through town while we waited for the Georgia O’Keefe Museum to open, a local gentleman offered coins for the parking meter and advised us to visit the historic courthouse with its murals. They are incredible, in the style of Diego Rivera these murals are significant depictions of the plight of the Indians during Spanish Colonial period.
The fee to get into the O’Keefe was very high except for me since I had my CSCC I’d I got in for just $10. I bought 2 Georgia O’Keefe prints and when I got back to Columbus I found the original of one at our Columbus Museum.The rest of the trip was long days through flat fields with puffy white clouds on blue skies and roadside motels and Ok meals until a celebration at Steak and Shake number 251.
The rest of the trip was long days through flat fields with puffy white clouds on blue skies and roadside motels and Ok meals until a celebration at Steak and Shake number 251.