Posts Tagged archaeology

A mysterious lack of mystery

Last post I talked about the desert and how I came to believe it is my soul’s home. There are several reasons for that feeling, I suppose, and I’ll list a couple here.

First the desert has no mystery. It’s nothing more than rocks and sand and scrubby plants that can barely survive the harsh climate. Juniper trees that are hundreds of years old form beautiful shapes that testify to their struggle for life. Cactus protect their internally-held water with spines that will make you wish you’d never touched them. There are poisonous critters throughout the area: scorpions, rattlesnakes and all-terrain vehicles. The desert will kill you as readily as it will tolerate you, so you’d better come prepared for the worst if you visit the desert.

Second, the desert has great mysteries. I’ll share a few examples today.

Long ago—estimates suggest 1,000+ years—there were thriving civilizations in the desert. I say civilizations, plural, because archaeological evidence suggests that there were actually several different periods of occupation over the centuries.

The first European-descended settlers in the area named them “Anasazi,” a term they picked up from Navajos. The disappearance of the Anasazi became a great mystery and was ballyhooed around the region in an attempt to lure tourists in to spend their dollars. Problem is, Anasazi is an insult to the people who lived here way back then. According to interpretations of the term that I’ve seen it means “Enemies of Our Ancestors.” Not a very nice name for the ancient ones.

Craig Childs, in his book House of Rain, explores several sites and reports conversations with archaeologists who, he says, reports that the “Anasazi” were actually Pueblo people who were nomadic and ranged from the Cedar Mesa areas of Utah all the way into Mexico, finally staying in New Mexico after the European invasion. A guide at Navajo National Monument, a place with great examples of Ancestral Pueblo dwellings told the story of Monument staff bringing some Pueblo elders to the site of the Betatakin ruin in the Monument. The elders read some of the rock art and pointed out where the springs were, where the kivas were and accurately described some of the features of the ruin without having ever been there. A pretty good indication that they know who the inhabitants were.

Another sign the mysterious inhabitants of the area left behind was rock art. I just love petroglyphs and pictographs that are found in the area. They are truly mysterious. Sure, there are representations of desert bighorn sheep and elk or deer, clearly an indication of the source of food in the area, but there are other far more indecipherable figures. What looks like people, or maybe space aliens, footprints that may indicate a clan association or what to look out for, plants and possible crops and wondrous birds. Maybe. It’s impossible to tell. Few today really know what they’re all about and they aren’t telling because it’s none of our business. So we look at the art and speculate and wonder and enjoy the mystery.

Here are a few examples of some fine rock art (As usual, click on the images to see them full-size).

 

 

There are several panels in Capitol Reef National Park. One is labeled and easily accessed. The art seems to come from the ancients named the Fremont People.

 

Fremont Petroglyphs, Capitol Reef National Park

Fremont Petroglyphs, Capitol Reef National Park

 

As you approach the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, you go by a fascinating Utah State Historical Monument, Newspaper Rock. The site was so named because of the incredible display of rock art. Here is a look at the whole panel:

 

Newspaper Rock State Hitorical Monument, Utah

Newspaper Rock State Hitorical Monument, Utah

 

And here are some detail shots:

 

Newsapaper Rock State Historical Monument, Utah, Detail 1

Newsapaper Rock State Historical Monument, Utah, Detail 1

 

 

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument, Utah, Detail 2

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument, Utah, Detail 2

 

I’ll share more rock art captures as time goes on. There are so many examples, all so mysterious. It’s a great treat to stumble across an ancient drawing, especially one that hasn’t been trashed by some more recent arrival. Some of the finest panels have bullet holes from high-powered rifles marring the art. But the art has outlasted the defilers. Good.

 

More to follow.

Bob

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Valley of Fire 2

Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada has a lot of great geology. The Earth was particularly tortured long ago in this area and the combination of multiple levels of sedimentation and twisting have made this a place of stunning geology. But geology isn’t the only attraction. There’s anthropology, too. There are petroglyphs in several places in the park. I visited some of them and will share them here.

 

First, a little more geology. The forces of nature must have been tremendous to cause this sort of fracturing and twisting:

Click the images to see them full size and in proper color (at least the ones that have color):

 

Fun with Geology

Fun with Geology

 

Yes, it’s interesting in color, but I think this monochrome view shows a lot more.

The rock art is as good as any I’ve seen. Atlatl Rock has some petroglyphs high up. So high that the park management built a steel staircase to bring visitors close enough to see the glyphs well. Here’s what they look like:

 

Atlatl Rock Petroglyphs

Atlatl Rock Petroglyphs

 

Some of the themes are familiar, being pretty common among many rock art sites in the Southwest Desert, but some are a little different, bringing a lot of interest and speculation to the scene.

As I left the rock, I noticed the sun was in a position to play hide-and-seek as I walked in and out of the rock’s shadow. That rang a bell in my head that said, “Starburst.” When the sun just peeks over a rock or tree and with the right lens and f/stop, you can catch a starburst in an image. Here’s one I saw at Atlatl Rock:

 

Atlatl rock starburst

Atlatl rock starburst

 

As a bonus, you can follow the stairs and see where the petroglyph panel was.

 

I was impressed with Valley of Fire and will go back!

More to follow,

Bob

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Another one of those days

Well, it was a day to remember. Lots of stupid stuff happened, but some good to offset it.

I decided to go to the Procession Panel today. I had it in my mind to do a panorama of the whole glyph. That is, take three or four images and merge them together. I haven’t seen anyone do this yet, so figured I’d be the first one to publish it.

Off to a bad start. I forgot to set my odometer to tell how far I’d gone and identify the right parking place/trailhead. I knew I had gone much too far, so decided to explore (exploration means never having to say you’re lost) and get the panel tomorrow. I pulled into a parking area and decided I must be close to one of the more famous ruins in the area. The parking area looked familiar, but there were benches there, something I had never seen in the area.

Along with the benches were signposts, pointing the way to whatever was up there. (More on that later.) I headed out to see what I was going to see. About 1/4 mile down the trail my boots started to eat my heels. These are boots that I’d broken in already, so I thought they just needed to warm up. Besides, I had already put bandaids on the spots these boots used to bother me. It just got worse. Of course, I hadn’t brought a spare pare because these were broken in. And it only really caused a problem when I was going uphill. The last half of the hike was to be downhill. (That’s a lot different from what happens when you hike with Tom. With him, the first 95% of the hike is uphill and the last 95% is uphill.)

So I followed the cairns and realized that things looked familiar. Continuing on, I saw that I had inadvertently found the right parking place, and was on the way to the Procession Panel. Wow! Now here comes something odd. All my whining and sniveling in the past about not being able to find the panel must have been heard on high, because there was a BLM sign with an arrow pointing to the trail to the panel. What the…

So I got there and got the shot. On the way I found (Ma Nature strikes again) some flowers blooming and saw a lizard scurrying under a rock. It’s way too early for either of those phenomena in my estimation. There’s still snow on the ground up there!

Anyway, here’s the flower, actually larger than lifesize:

LPFs, Procession Panel

LPFs, Procession Panel

And, of course, the Procession Panel isn’t the only glyph in the area. Here’s a dope playing with a snake:

 

Snake Dancer

Snake Dancer

And here’s the Procession Panel panorama. I am not sure how this will come across on your computer, but I just had to try it. You may need to scan left and/or right to see the whole thing.

Procession Panel

Procession Panel

I gotta run and pour some beer on my blisters. From the inside.

More to follow,

Bob

 

 

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It’s always good to go back

Went to Cold Spring Ruin today. I wanted to be sure Nick got to see it and, of course, I don’t mind seeing great places like that. Imagine my amaze when I started seeing pictographs and petroglyphs in a place I thought I had photographed thoroughly and had see it all.

Turns out I was so fixated on the spring room that I didn’t really look at anything else. I made up for that today. There’s some cool stuff:

Hands were the big theme. Can’t believe I missed them last time, but I got them this time. Hands were all over the place. Like this:

 

Hands, Cold Spring Ruin

Hands, Cold Spring Ruin

And like this: It’s a little hard to see, but I’ve got some ideas on how to enhance the image. The hand with a spiral in the palm has been made into jewelry, tee-shirts, etc. Here’s a real one.

Spiral Hand

Spiral Hand

 

Spirals were all over the place as petroglyphs, too. Here’s a sample:

Spiral

Spiral

And because the spring is still kind of active, the cacti grew huge. This is the biggest barrel cactus I’ve seen in Southern Utah:

Cactus

Cactus

More to follow.

Bob

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And the Holy Grail falls into my hands!

Well, it didn’t fall, that would have hurt. But I finally got to see the Procession Panel. Our intrepid group of gawkers headed up the very same canyon I’ve gone up three times before. This time we had a book that gave route information. It was a little better than the books I had earlier that gave route information. Add to that a couple of discussions with friends about how I went wrong on the quest and we found it.

What an interesting panel! Almost 180 teeny little figures marching along, guided by Shamans (the ones with the shepherd’s crooks). They seem to be either converging on or emanating from one point heading in three directions. Add to that the animals, an elk, (I think) and a rattlesnake (I think), and you’ve got a seriously fascinating set of petroglyphs. Take a look.

Dozens of figures walking along the trail. Below them is what I take to be a rattlesnake. It has fangs on the right side.

Procession Panel 1

Procession Panel 1

More marchers, heading to…

Procession Panel 2

Procession Panel 2

And yet more marchers walking across the top of an elk. I presume it’s an elk because of the horns.

Procession Panel 3

Procession Panel 3

It was a satisfying find and I’m glad we got there.

Today the rest of the gang headed for Laramie, leaving me and Nick to do some more exploring. We went to Hovenweep today and gawked at the ruins. We also did some pretty serious archaeology and figured out pretty much everything about the ruins, their construction and their purpose. At least everything we could make up on the spur of the moment.

 

More to follow.

Bob

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Monument Valley Tour

I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time and finally got to Monument Valley. We took a day-long trip through both Monument Valley and Mystery Valley. Mystery Valley is only accessible to non-Navajo people with a guide. We had a great guide, Don, who had a good sense of humor was courteous and shared a lot of information with us. Of course, when I asked some questions that I probably shouldn’t (about Navajo culture and beliefs), Don just chuckled. What a great way to handle a stupid question.

Mystery Valley was the highlight of my day. I believe we saw some very ancient ruins, pictographs and petroglyphs. As an added bonus, they were pretty pristine because the grave robbers and looters have been kept out of the valley. Here are a couple images from there.

The first is an anthropomorph similar to the ones we saw in Horseshoe Canyon, but, I think, much older. As we looked at the panel, we could see more and more glyphs and this one finally kind of showed up. I’ve done very little enhancement on this image and you’ve got to look at it a while to see all the goodies.

Pictograph, Monument Valley, 1

Pictograph, Monument Valley, 1

 

I thinks glyphs like the hands are just fun. I can see a couple of explanations for them: first, the kids fell in the paint bucket and simply dabbed the paint onto the rock. Or, the kids decided that if Dad could paint a person, the kids could play finger paint. Or, it’s the artist signing the work. Any way, the hands bring a real sense of who was here waaaaaaaaaaay back when.

Hands, Monument Valley

Hands, Monument Valley

More to follow,

Bob

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Ghosts

Well, they look like ghosts. They’re the Barrier Canyon pictographs. They’re hard to get to when you’re as out of shape as I am, but it’s well worth the effort to schlep a 30 pound camera pack 300 feet down into a canyon, then a couple miles upstream. Nobody really knows what these pictographs are all about, and I sure can’t add any enlightenment. All I can do is photograph them and show you the results. Hope you find them as enthralling as I do.

 

Barrier Canyon Pictorgraphs 1

Barrier Canyon Pictorgraphs 1

Barrier Canyon Pictographs 2

Barrier Canyon Pictographs 2

You may have noticed that these posts are text short. That’s OK. We seldom have time to do all the stuff that’s necessary to prepare a blog and then write an opus. I’m tired, too. So there.

More to follow,

Bob

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