Sunday, October 28, 2007

Semi Arid Grassland

About an hour's drive southeast of Tucson there is a beautiful grassland community known as the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. It is on the edge of the Sonoran desert, and is an area of gentle rolling hills. Mesquite tress have been invading the grassland, and the BLM has tried to remove the trees by controlled burns, and mechanically removing them with bulldozers. One of my friends Danielle, has been looking at how these methods affect the small mammal populations in the grasslands. I had the chance to help Danielle and her friend Eric during one day of their work. One of the rodents caught in a live trap Danielle, and Eric set. In each plot there were 100 traps set, and in many of the plots over 90% of the traps had animals in them when we checked. The traps are baited with bird seed and checked early the next day. Any captured animals are identified, and sometimes measured and marked, then released where they were caught. Kangaroo rats are especially adapted to dry conditions in that they never have to drink. They get all the water they need from the seeds they eat. Their kidneys are much better at conserving water than those in other mammals such as humans. One kangaroo rat built this mound and the paths leading to it. A bit of care must be taken when handling the animals as they will bite!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Chaco Culture National Historic Park

Chaco is a remote park. We turned off US 550 a few miles past Nageezi NM and from there drove just over 20 miles to the park including 13 miles on a dirt road that in places was thick with a washboard surface. I am not complaining. The remote nature of the park is one of the things that makes it so attractive. Other than the wind, occasional thunderstorms, and the rare small plane overhead, it is very quiet, very peaceful. One thousand years ago, however, the atmosphere must have been very different. There is evidence Chaco was an important hub of trade, and ceremonial and religious activity.

The following I think will give you a feel for the importance of Chaco:

“Approximately 1,000 years ago, there arose in the northern part of what is now the southwestern United States a place of unprecedented power. That place was Chaco Canyon, and at its center stood the structure known today as Pueblo Bonito. An enormous building, Pueblo Bonito rose four stories tall, held perhaps as many as 800 rooms, and encompassed almost three acres. Its occupants ruled not just the canyon in which they lived but also much of the surrounding region. Their power was political, economic, and perhaps most importantly, religious. It provided the unifying force for Chacoan society, one of the most complex societies ever to develop in the prehispanic Southwest. At its peak, Pueblo Bonito must have been a spectacular, awe-inspiring sight. Today, abandoned and in ruin, the structure continues to overwhelm all who see it.

Jill E. Neitzel

Overwhelmed. Yes. Goosebumps, chills, tears. Yes. All the symptoms of being overwhelmed were present as we stood just after dawn inside Pueblo Bonito.

The structures at Chaco Canyon were built between 800 and 1150 or so. While the people who built these amazing structures migrated elsewhere around 1200, Chaco does not feel empty.

This is a small ruin in an alcove near the campground
Look closely at the mortar. Can you see the fingerprints of the mason who made this wall?

There are beautiful petroglyphs and pictographs in the park.
This negative print of a hand was made by using the mouth to blow pigment around the hand.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Southwest camping trip

From Sept. 26 to October 18 I camped my way around the desert southwest. For just over a week I was joined by my great friend Mary of Milwaukee fame, and the rest of the time I was on my own. We roamed over a good part of Northern New Mexico, slipped up into Utah for a bit, and rambled into Arizona as well. There were times we shared our campsites with great folks such as Brian and Vanessa from Jackson Wy. , who were headed to Santa Fe for a yoga conference, and Ali and Jessica from Paris who had a few days to wander around before heading back to France. At Chaco Culture National Park we camped next to Ed and Sheryl from Rio Vista CA who were most hospitable in sharing their dinner, and their campfire with me. I appreciated this a great deal since it got down to 22 at Chaco during the night.

I will be posting photos of the adventure over the next few days. These first few were taken in Monument Valley Tribal Park on the Navajo Reservation.

Sunrise at Monument Valley from the campground.