Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Chaco Canyon Bound (Part IV)

Nila stirred slightly, shifting her weight in the backpack as I set off towards Jackson Stairway, another marvel of Chacoan engineering where an ancient road, following some unknown goal, chose to carve a steep stair straight from the side of a cliff, rather than winding round to find a more gentle path down into the Canyon.

Suddenly, there was a sound of a most explosive nature.  A monstrous sized fart rent the air, the sound of which seemed impossible to have come from the 20 pound bundle of sleeping cuteness on my back.

Not wanting to wake her, I struggled to contain my laughter. Until I realized that it twas not just sound, but also substance.  A warm, putrid gel oozed down my back and my eyes grew wide as I remembered placing the wet wipes and diapers on the front seat where I’d be sure to grab them…except I didn’t.  I turned around and sped back to the car, hoping to reach it before she awoke cold, wet and sticky.  We both know I didn’t make it; that I ran back to the car with a toddler screaming in my ear and cold, sticky poo sliding down my back.  You can really get a feel for living primitive cleaning poo off of two people, without running water, while one of those people flails about, flinging it everywhere.  

I swabbed us up as best I could, then sang a lullaby til she fell asleep. Stepping outside the camper, I closed my eyes, and turned my face towards the sun. Then the dam broke. Exhausted, I dropped to my knees in the dirt, clutching my arms around me to keep my frustrated fists from pounding the ground. Tears started down my cheeks and my face burned red as I fought to stifle the sound of my sobs. “I can’t do this!  I can’t live tethered to another person no matter how much I love them.” Could I?

The first time I came to Chaco Canyon I was arrested, yet I had never felt more fully bound than I did at that very moment. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a mother.  I just wanted to be a Mother And. Because I was still. But we were doing this alone. I didn’t have family eager to care for my child while I went off frolicking and no one else we trusted was volunteering. Try as I might, I just couldn’t figure out how to reconcile the dichotomous pull between dedicating my every atom to the well being of my family and my own ambitions. 

I wondered if I should just give up, move on out to the burbs and join the PTA. Many people do. I’ve met dozens of parents who tell me how they used to feed their wild spirits, their big dreams. Sometimes, I see a brief flicker of fire in their eyes as they remember who they were. Then there’s this look of acceptance, sometimes serine and satisfied, but sometimes full of longing, as they tell me that this was all before they had kids.  And when they tell me this, I know they chose to give up, that they will never be wild again. And that’s okay, as long as they’re happy about it.  But I’m pretty sure I can’t be.

I peeked in the camper window at the sweet, sleeping face of my daughter.  There’s something magical about gazing on the face of your sleeping child.  It makes you want to do anything for her. There was no question that she was worth giving up everything for, but I sincerely believed if I could just figure out the right formula, I wouldn’t have to.  Leaning on all fours, I clutched handfuls of sand in my hands and declared, “I can do this.”

The next day, the wind blew cold and hard, but I bundled up and set out for Jackson Stairway under a bright blue sky. The wind blew sand so hard it stung my cheeks so I cinched my hood tightly around my face and kept my nose below a neck gator. The sole hiker on the trail, I was practically strutting, under the comfy encasement of my down coat and mittens, as I reached the edge of the canyon. I looked across to Jackson Stairway, etched like a treacherous ladder down the sheer wall. That’s all I needed. Like Armstrong planting the flag on the moon, I snapped a picture and headed back to camp, the wind at my back.

After that everything changed. Most mommies I know prefer the spa for regeneration, but over the next year and a half I managed to travel down that crazy Chaco road more times than I’d go to Walmart, and for a woman with a babe still in diapers, that really says something.  A place that almost landed me in jail, became where I most felt free.

A year later, I took a solo camping trip down that bumpy road for one of the park’s “star talks” that utilize Chaco’s impressive telescope collection.  Because of its remote location, Chaco Canyon offers some of the best stargazing in North America.  Periodically, Joe Public can view spectacles far out in space normally only viewed by professional astronomers and God.   It was a no-moon night and the stars dazzled while bats flit about the sky like dark butterflies.  We gazed into the center of Lyra, the twins, and other far flung galaxies, barely scratching the surface of what’s out there. I was suddenly struck by how much this place, dedicated to the preservation of the past, could teach us about the present, and even the future. About how much I had learned here for my own life.

Did I gain enough of Lehrer’s psychological distance to reconcile the desires of my heart? I want to tell you unequivocally yes and then explain eloquently in exactly what transformative ways that is true.  But I can’t.  Maybe someday. I can only tell you that the bumpy roads are worth it. That Life is hard, but beautiful, as Skeleton man said that it would be. Pa yuk polo (Hopi for):  this is the end of this story. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Chaco Canyon Bound (Part III)

Chaco Canyon Bound (Part III) 
Once into the canyon, there’s a sharp turn and then an abrupt transformation in the road.  Here at the tail end of 13 miles of hellishly ragged road the gravel disappears into smooth pavement.  The landscape changes.  Where once we were ringed by an unbroken sagebrush horizon in every direction, now four-hundred-foot sandstone cliffs rise from the desert floor on either side of the road, and extend as far as the eye can see, with only the park visitor center betraying the century.  While my husband purchased our permits, I perused the book collection. 

I casually picked up a book on the history of Chaco that featured a photo of a grizzled cowboy on the cover and I stood absently turning the pages.  Fifteen minutes later, my husband came over with our daughter to find me plopped down on the floor scribbling madly in my journal, with several books open in front of me. In those books, I'd found an incredible history, part real-life cowboy adventure, part wild mystery. Chaco Canyon just swallowed me whole.

Later that day, I hiked on top of the sandstone cliffs with my daughter in the pack on my back.  Through a bad hand of rock-paper-scissors, my husband had dibs on the first solo hike of the weekend, but I was still heading out.  I was just bringing my sweet little side-kick with me. 

It had taken some doing to gather everything I might need for a hike with a two year-old.  I put the diapers, wet wipes and change of clothes on the front seat where’d I’d be sure to grab them before I left, then grabbed water, snacks, travel toys, warm jackets, hats, sunscreen, and, of course, my journal and camera.  All of this was done while she had a fairly intense meltdown.  I considered bailing on the idea and just waiting for my turn to go out alone tomorrow, but who knew if the weather would hold, or what else might happen.  This could be my window not only for this weekend, but for God knew how long.  

So I pushed through and now we stood overlooking the considerable ruins of the ancient city of Pueblo Bonito, arguably one of the most impressive of 17 “Great house” ruins in Chaco Canyon. Nila happily pressed her pink lips together, blowing raspberries into my ear and giggled.  As the wind blew my hair away from my face, she laid her little head against my back, sighed contentedly and fell asleep.  Ah Bliss.

Well, almost.  I still wanted more.  I loved my daughter, loved being here with her.  But I longed to move over the land unencumbered; to scramble over the desert like a wild lioness, or spend all day in the park library if that be my druther. I was still pining for my former life.  Somehow I hadn’t grasped the scope and permanence when we started talking about this parenthood thing.  I didn’t know that parenthood was going to take everything but the crumbs of my former life.

But I was here now, so there was a day to be seized.  I admired the engineering marvel below me.  Thick walls of varying sizes of stones, perfectly stacked so that the walls were remarkably stable and windproof, to say nothing of their beauty. A mosaic of varying hues of roses and suedes(photo), the walls appear intended as much for art as function, though, once constructed, the walls were covered with a protective mud veneer, completely obscuring the beauty within. Many of the buildings had several floors supported by thick timbers that were hand carried from mountains over 80 miles away. I was staring into the remnants of an ancient society that not only overcame obstacles, but transcended them. 

For a moment my eyes moved to the sky to tell you-know-who he/she was right.  I know.  I’m being a bit of a baby. There are far harsher environments.  I was looking at one.

Agriculturally, it’s a nightmare. For most crops to survive there usually needs to be a minimum of 110-130 frost-free days, but the annual average of frost-free nights in Chaco Canyon is less than 100 days.  At night, it can frost in July if the right circumstances develop. Temperatures can fluctuate over 60 degrees in a single day with highs soaring to 118 F and lows dropping to -38 F.  And it’s dry. It’s very, very dry. Average annual precipitation is 8.5 inches and the wind blows the topsoil all the way to Colorado.  It’s been this way for thousands of years, no offense to Mr. Diamond, so no one was lured here for the abundant milk and honey. Then why?

On an earlier tour, our guide had shared an emergence myth of how the Pueblo people had come to this place, actually onto the surface of the Earth, escaping from an underground existence through a crack in the earth’s crust.  The story goes like this:  When the Pueblo emerged from the underworld, they found the earth dark and empty.  They saw only a giant sitting beside a fire.  The giant was Skeleton Man, the Holy Person in charge of death.  Skeleton man’s face was ghastly, but his manner was kind, so the people asked if he had any objections to their living in his territory.  “No,” Skeleton Man said.  He told them they were welcome and he would be glad to have neighbors but they should understand that this land offered little food and water.  If they sought material benefit, they should seek elsewhere.  Looking into the sky they were awestruck by the dazzling, endless canopy of stars.  They chose to stay and so the West is said to have been peopled.

 I was captivated by this heroic idea of choosing such a challenge, with no promise of reward other than to live free and bask in rugged beauty under the open sky.  Standing on my cliffside perch, I thought of how resourceful one would need to be to exist in this sun-scorched, crackling environment.   It almost seemed a curse for providence to place anyone here to play out the roles of father-son-mother-daughter. But to purposely choose such an existence? 

I looked across to the other side of the canyon where a gap in the cliffs once allowed the ebb and flow of a primeval inland sea to shape the land. Down to my genes I could somehow feel it, sense it, like something I remembered from my own long distant past. I could hear an illusory sea, almost smell the salty air despite the great lack of water now an inherent part of this area.  At my feet, the remnants of ancient sea-beds confirmed these sensations with the fossilized remains of prehistoric sea animals and clam shell beds (photo); evidence of a world that can repeatedly undergo dramatic change and yet endure. For such a barren place, there was so much here! (Continued)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Chaco Canyon Bound Part II

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(continued from Part I)
The thrill of trespassing on Federal property, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site-- a site deemed to be of universal value--promised to keep me warm, and we left the truck and set off towards the nearest ruin.  We only made it a quarter mile before we saw the jeep approaching, a cloud of dust at its bumper.  Fearing jail time and fines, we ducked into the sagebrush, making our actions appear far more sinister than they were.  It was stupid.  They had already seen us.  Now we looked like grave robbers.  Over a loudspeaker the ranger demanded we emerge with hands held high.   

Sheepishly we rose from the sagebrush with hands obediently aloft and shuffled our feet to the proper authorities.  After we convinced them we weren’t looters, just stupid kids, they escorted us out of the park, practically pulling us by our ears.   We spent another hour on the bumpy road, then three, frosty-silent hours home and that was that.  I never wanted to go back. 

So that’s how Chaco and I met.  Not like Romeo and Juliet, but more like Harry and Sally.  Despite all the characteristics that should have had me rollicking through canyons, ruins and books for years, instead I drew an invisible boundary around the place. While I enthusiastically explored practically everywhere else in the Southwest, as if the water was poisoned, I would not go to Chaco Canyon, a mere four hours from my home.  Maybe it was because that whole day had been such a misery. More likely, it was because I’m claustrophobic and this place almost landed me in the pokey. 

Fifteen years later, the adolescent waif kicking and scratching to survive had grown up, put herself through college and enjoyed a life devoted to outdoor adventure sports, funded by a rewarding career as a professional research writer.  For a little white girl from the hood of Memphis, Tennessee, I’d broken expectations.  I’d met the man of my dreams and had the good sense to marry him.  I had fascinating work and spent my free time scraping my belly against sandstone, rock climbing sheer walls all over the Southwest, plunging down rocky trails on my mountain bike or backpacking throughout Central America.

In my anamolous life, I had survived homelessness, poverty, drive by shootings, and sailing a Pontiac Trans-am under a parked semi, watching in slow motion as the corner of the semi ripped through the glittering silver hood, shattering the windshield before stopping a foot from my face.   Out West, I survived belly-flopping from a 95 foot cliff dive at Navajo Lake in New Mexico, breaking the fall with my face, nose and ribs.  I broke my jaw and wrists falling while freeclimbing on a crumbly rock wall in Durango, Colorado and wandered lost in the Utah desert until my lips blistered from sun, wind and dehydration.  I fought through red tape razor-wire and the quagmire of self-doubt to put myself through college--then graduated with honors.

Somehow, I managed to make surprisingly good decisions along my way: Accept the invitation to go backstage and party with Metallica?  No, and I’ll thank you to keep your hands to yourself, if you please!  Try the really hard drugs like cocaine or meth?  Hell no.  Travel across the country in a Volkswagen Beetle with a notebook, a tent and $60 to my name?  Hells Yes! Whether surviving my own reckless ignorance or the caprices of fate, I felt like I was really starting to figure this life thing out.   Until.... 
I became a mother.  I became a mother and I had no idea how to be one, who to ask…or who to listen to amidst the clamor of free advice.  My mother-in-law offers advice by the bushel, but complained that I don’t listen to anyone but myself, to which I replied, “That’s because I have an IQ of 146 and most people don’t.” 

I’m usually not that snarky, but in the process of giving birth I dislodged my sacrum (who even knew that could happen??) and I was uncomfortable on the best days and in dramatic pain on the worst. Rock climbing and mountain biking, which had served in lieu of drugs, alcohol, and psychotherapy, were temporarily verboten, so my husband and I found ourselves dealing with the newness of parenthood and recovery from a significant back injury, alone and cut off from traditional coping mechanisms. 

Then there was the career derailment.  I’d been driving five hours to Grand Junction to get my master’s in psychology, and needless to say, that between back pain and the lack of sleep or outside help, there was no driving five hours or writing papers, so the master’s program was put on hold.  Without graduate school options in Durango, unless I wanted to do an online degree, this meant indefinitely.  So, sometimes I was grumpy.

I thought of stories I’d read or movies I’d seen where a mother abandons her children and that nose-wrinkling-repulsion at the heartless harpy who could walk away from her own babies.  I’m not proud to say this, but I can see how it could happen, how a woman could feel so terrified and rung dry as she watches the picture of who she thought she was lose its color and dim, to be replaced with someone she doesn’t know and isn’t sure she likes.   Giving up my rock climbing gear and career for baby wipes and breast pumps sometimes felt like a demotion.  Other times it felt like a promotion I wasn’t qualified for.  After 200,000 years of Homo Sapien evolution, I was counting on parenthood being fairly instinctual, but I learned through blistered nipples that even knowing how to breastfeed properly doesn’t emerge completely from genetic code. 

It’s not always like that, but if you’re a parent, you knew that.  Or you just decided you’re never having children.  Actually, for most of it we’ve been running on the giddiness of creation and the lunacy of sleep deprivation.   I’ve spent hours gleefully playing “kissy-footy”and peek-a-boo, or lying beside my daughter as she sleeps, listening to the magnificence of her breath.  At first we barely noticed the things in our lives we’d dropped.  But as we grew into our family, sleep deprivation subsided, my neural pathways sputtered back to life.

I had always thought of stay at home Moms as people who just had no outside interests.  Now I understood the dichotomous pull between dedicating every atom of your being to the health and happiness of your family and the slightly more muted voices of your own ambitions.  Those voices, though hard to hear over the roar of motherhood, were vying for recognition and becoming more insistent. Intellectually, I yearned for the stimulation my research work and master’s program provided.  My limbic system yearned for the endorphins of hard exercise and little brushes with death that I never intended, but sure were fun to survive.   My entire being ached for travel, which had often combined both. 

In an article by neurologist and author of Why We Decide, Jonah Lehrer, he said that we are a “migratory species” and that travel not only stimulates human evolution, but that there is something “intellectually liberating about distance”:  It ignites a mysterious “cognitive quirk” that allows us to work through challenges more objectively and creatively when we can attain some distance from them, whether this distance is “physical, temporal or even emotional.”  While we don’t fully understand this “quirk” it appears to be innate, a stimulus that has set humanity roving since first we pulled our bellies onto the sand from out of our primordial ooze. Though, some of us need to rove more than others.

I found it comforting to know that we are actually hard-wired to crave the open road and my deep need to ramble is actually a psycho-biological form of grappling with life’s challenges .  My husband is similarly inclined.

After a year and a half of catastrophic attempts to take our new baby tent camping, we finally bought and lovingly restored a 12 foot vintage camper we christened Old Ironsides, after an 18th century naval frigate said to be indestructible and still floating in Boston Harbor. What better name for the ship we hoped would launch us back to the magical world of traveling? 

As soon as she was ready, my husband suggested we give Chaco Canyon a try given its close proximity.   Yoga and physical therapy had nearly restored my back and I was eager to try out a new child back carrier.  Though the idea of Chaco was at first repellent, fifteen years and one hell of a roller coaster ride later, I returned to Chaco Canyon for a weekend camping trip. 

Other than the tragic loss of the voice of Ricardo Mantolbahn as the park’s radio spokesperson, little seemed to have changed.  The road actually seemed worse.  Below the thin veneer of gravel was clay that turned treacherously to grease after rain, then dried hard, so that our tires were guided and bounced in the grooves of any vehicle whose tires had trod before. We tried to just speed through, until we turned a corner and almost skidded off the road dodging a herd of free-range horses moseying down the middle of the road, long tails sashaying back and forth. They were attended by the smartest dogs I’ve ever seen. One of them, I swear, barked us the riot act as we passed. (Photo).  (Continued). 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Chaco Canyon Bound Part I

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Chaco Canyon Bound

The first time I visited Chaco Canyon, I was arrested for trespassing. Hidden under a smudge of thick black eyeliner and the smoldering remains of a blistering adolescence, I looked more like a girl out for trouble, not a hike around 900 year-old Native American ruins.  I’d been on my own since I was 16, and I’d had to cultivate some rather roguish qualities in order to survive, but I wasn’t really trouble.  I just wasn’t completely tame, either. For Chaco Canyon, I was just another errant bohemian who got snagged while traveling through.
Strewn with the great ruins of an ancient civilization, and grounded in the sandy sagebrush and Pinyon Pine country of Northwestern New Mexico, Chaco Canyon has an unmistakable allure and a long history of drawing mavericks, rogues and rascals to its brushy bottom. Apparently it used to be Vegas. According to an old Navajo legend, the great rock “houses” scattered throughout the canyon were actually built a millenia ago at the behest of a divine reprobate known as, Nohoilpi. Renegade son to Tsohanoai, the sun god, Nohoilpi was an unscrupulous gambler who lured local tribesmen into games only he could win. One by one they lost their freedom and were set to work constructing the great houses whose ruins now dominate this canyon. Or so one legend has it.

After nearly a thousand years, many of these structures remain untouched, a fact owed, probably in no small part, to local tribal taboo of entering a dwelling where someone may have died and their spirits may still be milling about. With the stony skeletons of these ancient ruins standing against the cliffs with their dark, empty windows and doors gaping, Chaco Canyon feels riddled with ghosts.  Just below the surface of the loamy soil, more structures still lay buried under tons of sand, some of them several stories deep, and as of yet, completely unexplored.

Aside from lingering spirits, we also owe these unspoiled ruins to yet another rogueish character, the often vilified Richard Wetherill. Wetherill was a self-educated archaeologist, cowboy and businessman…or treasure hunter, grave robber and cattle rustler, depending on who you ask. He followed a rumor into the desert, stumbling upon the ruins in 1895. While opinions quibble over his ethics, no one disputes that he had a clear set of them where the excavation of Chaco Canyon was concerned.  After a brutal campaign waged by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and an angry mob of historians, who declared he was destroying the site and the people who lived around them, site inspections revealed that not only did Wetherill excavate according to code, he exceeded them.  As to whether he cheated or corrupted the locals?  Hard to say when it turned out most of his accusers owed him money. Maybe, like me, he was judged more rascally than he was, though, my story with Chaco Canyon is quite a bit different. 

At the time, I had only recently transitioned from the role of adrift, troubled teen, who graduated high school with the unseemly gpa of 1.7, to that of first-generation college student on the Dean’s List—the good one. Before then, I had been a homeless teen who had plummeted through the system’s cracks, and I did what any girl my age with nothing to lose would have done:  I packed my few worldly possessions into a ’69 Volkswagen Beetle and left my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee for the widely acclaimed wild, wild West. Let me tell you, being a kid alone on the road with a really old car and hardly any money is just the right combination for some truly character-building situations; Situations like getting caught trespassing on a World Heritage site. 

It was mid November, during the “government shutdown” of ’96.  I was on a first “date” about to go horribly wrong.   It was one of those cold, gray days that make you hunch your shoulders forward and tighten your eyes, like enduring the day through the gauze of a hangover.  I’d just been driven four hours in a truck with no heat, by a shaggy, would-be suitor whom we’ll call “Scott.”  A barely-affording-college student from Tennessee, I didn’t have the right clothing for the cold winters of Northern New Mexico.  While I huddled in the passenger seat, shivering in my second-hand army surplus jacket, my oblivious “date” prattled on, (from the comfy encasement of his down coat, wool cap and mittens), about Chaco’s ruins being built by crystal-wielding-Aliens from another solar system.

I stared out the window at a sea of sage brush blurring by, punctuated by the occasional sandstone formations that rose like great golden ships on a sea.  Scott blathered on.  I ached to blurt out, “Could you please stop talking?” But we were in the middle of nowhere and I didn’t want to risk being ejected from the truck.  Instead, I went with exaggerated eye rolling, which was more amusing anyway because, so full of himself was this guy, that he didn’t even notice.   Annoyance aside, I found myself marveling at that desertscape and how unaccountably beautiful I found it.  It was so stark and barren with its short, scrubby brown brush interspersed with hyper-defensive cacti.  Combined with the stories of rattlesnakes and mountain lions Scott shared, it would seem to be most unwelcoming, yet I longed to walk deliberately into it. 

At the Highway turn-off, we passed a sign suggesting we tune to AM 1610 for Chaco Canyon park information.  Hoping for a distraction from the cold, and a pause to Scott's monologue, I tuned us in.  I remember being pleasantly surprised to hear the Spanish-flecked voice of Ricardo Montalbahn, one-time steward of the mythical “Fantasy Island,” extolling the virtues and mysteries of Chaco Canyon.  Nobody can say “mystery” like Ricardo.  The story sparked my interest in the adventure, even if I was less than excited about my date.  As I remember it years later, according to Ricardo, somewhere ahead of us in this wide expanse of desert, was a great gash in the earth known as Chaco Canyon.  There stand the ruins of a grand civilization that dawned almost a thousand years ago, thrived for two and a half centuries and then was abandoned--for reasons unknown (photo).
Seventeen great house ruins, some consisting of more than 700 rooms and rising four stories high, are scattered throughout the Canyon and were designed and constructed by highly skilled engineers, architects, builders, and, apparently, astronomers.  Evidence suggests the ancient Chacoans had an intimate relationship with the night sky, using astronomical orientation in the alignment of several pueblos and kivas and using special rock formations and pictographs to mark the path of the sun and moon, not only throughout the year, but, in the case of the lunar standstill, which takes 18 years for full traverse, over the course of decades.  These masterminds engineered and constructed over 200 miles of roads connecting them to 150 outlying communities, leaving evidence of a powerful influence that reached across 25,000 square miles, yet left no evidence of a written language or history except a few strategically placed petroglyphs (photo); Far fewer than might be expected for such a venerable civilization that built with such purposeful grandeur. 

Scientists have been studying the remains for over 100 years and still have few conclusive answers about who lived here and why.  Was this a place of worship or refuge? Utopia Or fiefdom? Storage building or apartment complex?  Today (and it would help if you could imagine the voice of Ricardo for the rest of this passage), the place remains shrouded in mystery. Who were the architects of this civilization? Why did they choose such a dry, desolate location for their great cities? Where did they go and why?  Scott’s UFO tales and New Age theories aside, and there are plenty to this very day, this sounded worth making the trip and I found myself leaning forward in my seat, anxious to catch the first distant glimpse of an Ancestral Puebloan Great House ruin. 

Leaning forward in my seat became distinctly uncomfortable, however, as the last twenty two miles of the journey was at considerably reduced speed over a potholed, wash-boarded, gravel road.  If you’ve never experienced a road with wash boards, imagine driving over a deeply louvered surface in a car with no shocks to absorb the perpetual bumps.  Naturally, the shocks on Scott’s truck had long since lost their spring. There was a good side to that, though: Every bump was so jarring it was better if we didn’t talk lest our tongue be trampled by our teeth.   

We bumped and tossed about on this road for over an hour, all the while Ricardo’s enticing voice assured us Chaco Canyon was the experience of a lifetime.  He shared many fascinating theories and facts that fired our imaginations .  He spoke of parrot feathers and other treasures still buried in the sand and hidden in clever rock caches (photos from park service).  He invited us to wonder what might have caused the exodus of such an accomplished world.

But not once did he mention the park being closed because of a congressional squabble.  “Scott” and I stood with mouths indignantly agape as we read the 8 X 10 sign taped to the closed entrance gate, advising us of the closure and threatening hefty fines and jail time for trespassers and treasure hunters. 

 “Well, that would have been a good sign to post back at the highway,” “Scott” said. 
I was thinking that making sure they were open might have been a detail to confirm before asking a date to drive four hours in a car with no heat on a cold November day, but I’m Southern and apparently other norms apply here.  

 Three freezing highway hours, an hour on that bone-jarring road, Ricardo’s grand presentation promising the experience of a lifetime and our fresh-out-of-high-school, newly-adulted sense of morality and justice…well, the combination practically mandated we explore the park in defiance of said closure.  After all, if there were no staff left to post a decent sign or update the radio info, then there probably wasn’t staff to ensure compliance.    With hundreds of unproven Chaco Canyon theories waiting decades for resolution, this one was both formed and proven false in less than half an hour.    (Continued)