The Ancient People: Cedar Mesa, UT
The cottonwood trees have barely started to bud. It’s early spring in canyon country, but the weather is warm. Sitting in the shade of a cottonwood, I prop up my tired feet, recline in my camp chair, and sip tea. I took the first campsite I could find near water. This canyon, which I have decided to not name to protect the many sensitive artifacts and archaeological sites contained herein, started out with abundant water, large pools, and waterfalls. But after several miles, the water disappeared. For 2 hours I walked with a quarter cup of water sloshing around at the bottom of my bottle. But I knew there would be water. HAD to be water. Thanking mother nature once again for always taking such good care of me, I drank heartily from a clear, deep spring coming right up from the ground. The sweetest water imaginable. No filtering required. This water traveled through miles of sandstone to get here. Purified by Mother Nature herself.
This is a special place. A canyon 50 miles long consisting of extra thick walls of sandstone and more Anasazi cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, pictographs, kivas, potsherds, and other artifacts than anywhere else on in Utah. But the beauty of this place is that you have to seek out these ruins yourself, hiking many miles and sometimes many days to find them. There are no signs, no guided tours, no roped off viewpoints, and no crowds here. Here you discover the ruins on your own. Many times off trail. Hidden among alcoves and down unnamed canyons. The early people thrived here for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. I can see why. Here, I suppose, they felt protected from their enemies, living high up the canyon walls. They chose south facing walls providing the warmth of the sun in the winter and shade in the summer. Living in this place of undeniable beauty, they raised children, hunted for food, and did their daily chores. Passing the time They made beautiful pottery and adorned their walls with artwork that still exists today. These petroglyphs (etchings) and pictographs (paintings), decorate the orange sandstone walls around their houses and throughout their canyons. How fitting is it that along with their cliff dwellings, which blend into the surroundings so well they are often overlooked, their artwork is the only surviving mark of their existence in these canyons. They are gone, but their ART survives.
Archaeologists say these ancient cliff dwellers seemingly left all at once. Perhaps these enemies, real or imagined, finally got the best of them and drove them out. Or perhaps they were driven out by drought or famine. For whatever reason, they moved on. Now here I am. Poking around their little stone houses, many still intact after thousands of years. Here I am camping in their canyons they used to call home. But instead of fear, I feel safety. I have no enemies to fear deep inside these canyons. I carry no weapons and camp on the canyon floor. I feel only peace as another couple walks by my camp this morning. A friendly hello is all that is exchanged. But we live in different times. Safer times. How often it is that I think to myself, if I could pick any time to be alive on this planet, I choose now. Now is the best time. This of course works well, now being my only available option. But we live in a time of relative safety and abundance. Of course I am speaking only of my country of residence, the only one I know. For those of you who don’t agree, I simply invite you to turn off the evening news. Better yet, turn off the TV entirely. Get rid of it. The way I see it, there has never been a better time to be alive than right now. And since now is all you have anyway, why not enjoy it to the fullest. Sure, there is poverty, theft, violence, hatred, greed, and so on. But these things have always existed. These things are not new. The media is new. The Anasazi didn’t need the media to tell them there were enemies lurking around every corner. This was their reality. Fighting was a way of life.
After dinner, I walk up a side canyon and discover, almost immediately, a large area of ruins on a south facing cliff. In fading light, I climb as high as I can and reach several lower structures. Potsherds and corn cobs are scattered about. Petroglyphs and pictographs adorn the walls. Some resemble bighorn sheep. Deer. Others are more otherworldly. Visions from dreams perhaps, or gods, or demons. Then there are three arrows. Arranged vertically. All pointing down. Down towards what, I do not know. Several handprints. Small like a childs. Over a dozen structures can be seen from where I sit. The highest ones cannot be reached. It’s likely these are the best preserved. Sitting high on this sandstone cliff, I feel close to these people. A sort of empathy for them. That the love in my heart is the same as the love in theirs, if that makes sense.
As it gets dark, I walk back down the canyon. To my camp. Frogs are now croaking loudly as I pass by a stream. If you are ever in need of water, just wait until dark and listen for the frogs. There you will find water. Their sounds echo off the canyon walls, filling our canyon with a symphony of sound. A lullaby I imagine will sing me peacefully to sleep. Tomorrow I feel should be a very good day.
To be continued . . .