Four Corners, Part 4 (Native Americans)

On August 13, 2017 · 0 Comments

It would be difficult for anyone to travel through northern New Mexico and southern Colorado without encountering signs of its original inhabitants. Archaeological evidence stretched back for millennia. Ruins defined an era of large, complex settlements beginning more than a thousand years ago. Their descendants still lived in the area, preserving a rich tradition and culture. The clash between archaic and modern bewildered me at times. It differed so completely from my experience on the Atlantic coast where a building from the Seventeenth Century would be considered "ancient."

Our journey went backwards in time, from the current day to successively older epochs. I hadn’t planned it that way. It simply unfolded as we drove along.

Taos Pueblo


Taos Pueblo

People still lived in Taos Pueblo, perhaps the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America. I didn’t see the Pueblo during my visit to Taos in 2013 so I made a special point to get there this time around. My older son accompanied me. My wife and younger son decided to take a rest day back at Angel Fire, at a higher altitude with lower temperatures. The desert climate of Taos climbed into the mid 90’s that day (35° Celsius). Our first contribution to the pueblo economy got us two bottles of cold water.

Taos Pueblo (map) stood distinctly apart from the nearby town of the same name. Native Americans speaking a variant of Tiwa, a Tanoan language, first settled there about a thousand years ago. They built multistory adobe structures, from mud and straw supported by log beams, on both sides of a gently flowing stream at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The called themselves the Red Willow people and they prospered in a large farming community. The Coronado expedition arrived there in 1540, beginning a long era of Spanish contact. Pueblo structures that Coronado would have recognized appeared much the same to modern visitors. Only the addition of a church sometime around 1620 changed the landscape inside its walls dramatically.

Somehow, against all odds, descendants of the original inhabitants still occupied and owned Taos Pueblo. Little shops selling traditional crafts occupied many of the ground floor rooms today. However, no electricity or plumbing served these ancient places. I’d heard that a few people still lived within the pueblo although most occupied modern homes just beyond its gates. Its buildings also needed constant maintenance to keep their earthen walls from washing back into the desert during summer storms. The whole experience seemed otherworldly. No wonder it made the UNESCO World Heritage site list.


Pecos National Historical Park


Pecos National Historical Park

The residents of Pecos Pueblo (map) didn’t fare as well. Their settlement started around the same time as Taos, about a thousand years ago, and it prospered for centuries. Perhaps two thousand people filled its towering adobe structures during its apex. They chose their location well. This high ground separated the Rio Grande valley from the Great Plains. That allowed the people of Pecos, known as the Cicuique, to become middlemen in a vast trading network. They controlled contact between the Pueblo tribes to which they belonged, and various migratory tribes of the plains. This brought wealth, prosperity and power to the village. The Coronado expedition encountered Pecos at its peak, at a time when it dominated the region.

However, the situation slowly changed over the next couple of centuries. Spain eventually consolidated its governance in nearby Santa Fe, about eighteen miles (30 kilometres) to the northwest. Previously unknown European diseases such as smallpox ravaged the population. Great Plains tribes like the Comanche raided and harassed its inhabitants. Only a handful of people remained by 1838 when they finally abandoned their ancestral home and moved to Jemez Pueblo.

Pecos Pueblo became a ghost town, crumbling slowly back into the mesa. The largest remaining structure actually reflected Spanish rule, a church dating back to the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Only the bare outlines of residences and ceremonial kivas remained elsewhere throughout the site, accompanied by a couple of modern reconstructions hinting at its former glory. The few surviving ruins of Pecos Pueblo became a national park property in the 1960’s.

I loved this photo by the way — perhaps my favorite from the trip.


Bandelier National Monument


Bandelier National Monument

Another pueblo rose during that same era near the present city of Los Alamos. Unlike Taos and Pecos, the people at Bandelier (map) did not build their village upon an open plain. Instead they used local geology to their advantage. Sheer cliff walls defined nearby mesas, with layers of soft volcanic stone called tuff. People could dig into the tuff to create rooms. They could also carve holes that anchored logs to attach external buildings. Thus, the pueblo grew in three directions, out from the cliff, into the cliff, and up.

However, the ancestral Pueblo residents left Bandelier before Europeans arrived. Early Spanish explorers found only ruins, long abandoned. Oral tradition and archaeological evidence pointed towards overpopulation and an extended drought. The people who lived there likely migrated from their Frijoles Creek homeland to more successful pueblos in the Rio Grande valley.


Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Mesa Verde National Park

Pueblos in Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde also rose and fell before Spanish explorers arrived. I’ve written about Chaco and Mesa Verde previously based upon my visits there many years ago, so I won’t repeat their stories again. However, for the sake of completeness, I offer a couple of pictures I took during my recent trip.


Chaco Culture

This was a nice overlook of Pueblo Bonito (map) at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.


Mesa Verde

And this was part of the scenery at Mesa Verde’s Sun Point View (map)

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Four Corners, Part 3 (Towns)

On August 10, 2017 · 0 Comments

While the great outdoors flavored many of our decisions across northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, we also spent some time in "civilization" too. I tied to stay at least two nights in each place to create a little mental anchor. Otherwise we’d feel adrift in a vagabond existence. That offered time to explore a few towns along the way to complement amazing National Park Service properties. Nothing here should be confused with a comprehensive city guide. Sometimes we did the tourist thing and sometimes we avoided it. Twelve Mile Circle didn’t necessarily cling to conventions.

Santa Fe


Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe fell along our direct route. I figured we needed to stay near its historic Plaza (map) rather than a generic chain hotel out by the highway. I don’t mind cookie-cutter hotels ordinarily. It’s just a bed. However, Santa Fe always seemed to be one of those magical places best experienced in person. We needed to nestle near the action, an obvious choice for an extraordinary location.

The Santa Fe Plaza dated back to its earliest days as a Spanish outpost at the farthest reaches of the colonial empire. Don Pedro de Peralta served as governor of New Mexico and founded Santa Fe in 1610. Consider that for a moment. At that same time England barely maintained and nearly lost a foothold on the Atlantic coast at Jamestown. Meanwhile, the Spanish pushed their domain deep into the North American interior.

Santa Fe began as a walled fort to tame New Mexico and protect the Governor’s authority. The Plaza occupied a central space within that original fort. Santa Fe remained tremendously important continuously thereafter, with roads such as the El Camino Real and Santa Fe trail terminating there. It became and remained a capital city for much of its existence, and seemed a natural choice for the capital of the U.S. state of New Mexico. Albuquerque grew larger although Santa Fe never ceded its crown.

The Plaza didn’t disappoint either. Pueblo-inspired architecture ringed the perimeter, filled with the art galleries and jewelry stores that typified Santa Fe. We didn’t buy anything. We’re cheap. I enjoyed people-watching though. A row of stalls staffed by Native Americans selling traditional crafts defined its northern edge. Buskers of all types filled the square, my favorite being the men beating drums rhythmically accompanied by chants in traditional languages as sundown approached.


Los Alamos


Bathtub Row Brewing

Los Alamos offered a complete contrast to Santa Fe. It didn’t exist on a map until the Second World War ended. Even today only twelve thousand people lived there, many associated in some manner with the nearby National Laboratory. Everything seemed sleek and modern. No patina of age appeared on buildings, streets or landscapes. We didn’t stay overnight in Los Alamos although we stopped for lunch and toured the Bradbury Science Museum. There we saw artifacts from the Manhattan Project and replicas of the atomic bombs created in Los Alamos during the war. We also saw a curiously-named byway in the heart of town, Bathtub Row (map).

The United States government needed a remote, secret location to develop its atomic bomb. New Mexico met the criteria so the government seized the campus of the Los Alamos Ranch School. The most important scientists working on the Manhattan Project occupied homes on the vacated campus that once held the school’s teachers and administrators. Everyone else — the vast preponderance of workers — lived in temporary shacks or barracks. Only the original homes contained bathtubs. Everyone else used showers. Bathtub Row became shorthand for the the street where all of the bigwigs lived.


Durango


Durango, Colorado

Durango seemed a bit of a tourist town although we enjoyed it anyway. Once again, staying at a central location at the heart of town seemed to be the best alternative for us. Most of the action lined a half-mile stretch of Main Avenue east of the Animas River (map). Imagine a stereotypical "Western" town straight out of the old movies and that pretty much described Durango’s appearance. I’m not sure what drew me there other than its proximity to Mesa Verde, not that I regretted the decision. I liked waking up early each morning for a stroll through its quiet residential neighborhoods. It seemed like a well maintained and prosperous place.

Someone will be sure to ask if we rode the famous Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Most people seemed to come to Durango for that express purpose. Our hotel sat within walking distance of the terminal. I’ve even enjoyed tourist trains in the past (e.g., the White River Flyer in Vermont; the Big South Fork Scenic Railroad in Kentucky). Still, we didn’t do it. I think we were all at the point where we’d seen enough scenery for awhile. Our boys also needed some downtime after continuous activity all week long. Plus, I’ll be honest, the six nearby breweries and brewpubs within Durango city limits might have influenced the decision.


Denver


Denver Zoo

I’ve been to Denver more times than I can count. We stopped there so we could spend some time with friends before heading to the airport, not to see anything specific. Our kids behaved themselves so well during the trip that we wanted to do something just for them. My older son in particular loves animals. He decided awhile ago that he wanted to visit every zoo in the United States and collect a map at each one. Hmmm… I wonder where he got that compulsive need to count things and look at maps? That’s how we ended up at the Denver Zoo (map). Our friends seemed up for it so they decided to tag along. I’m not sure they expected to spend six hours viewing, literally, every animal accompanied by a full set of stream of consciousness commentary. However, that’s how my older son roles. He earned it.

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Tendril of Fairmont

On July 30, 2017 · 1 Comments

Last October I took a trip through various parts of northern West Virginia to count some counties. This included a stopover in Morgantown, home of the state’s flagship West Virginia University. I had to bypassed this area a number of times previously so I enjoyed being able to stop for once.


Fairmont
Fairmont, West Virginia
via Google Maps

Research at the time brought my attention to the nearby town of Fairmont. I noticed that Fairmont included a long tendril with a bulb on its southern end. It almost looked like an umbilical cord, literally just the width of a road for a couple of miles. What could possibly be so important that the town had to reach out like that and make sure this acreage fell within its borders? I should have been tipped-off by my numerous drives up and down I-79 over the years. I’d noticed an office park with huge satellite dishes by the side of the highway.


I-79 Technology Park


DSC_4119
Dedicating New, Innovative North Central Advanced Technology Center.
Photo by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on Flickr (cc)

Sure enough, those dishes appeared within the confines of the I-79 Technology Park. This served as West Virginia’s answer to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. WVU, a major research university, sat just twenty minutes up the road and offered a solid anchor. The facility contained 750,000 square feet (70,000 square metres) of building space. These housed data centers and offices for 30 businesses, where 1,500 people worked (map). Many of those jobs were solid, high-paying scientific an engineering positions too. No wonder Fairmont claimed it.

The government also maintained a visible presence there. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration operated its Independent Verification and Validation program on the campus. There it tested all of its mission critical software, a program created as a result of the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ran a supercomputer center there too.

These facilities should help dispel the myth that everyone in West Virginia works in a coal mine. Mystery solved, I could go ahead and end this article, right?


Captain James Booth



Captain James Booth Memorial

Well, maybe not so quickly. The tendril — Industrial Park Road — bisected a large grassy area just as it entered I-79 Technology Park. My curiosity got the best of me so I drilled down to check it out. There I noticed the Captain James Booth Memorial. I’d never heard of Captain James Booth and I didn’t know why he warranted a memorial. The memorial itself fell just outside of Fairmont’s borders although I considered it close enough for my purposes.

Obviously this high-tech corridor with its data centers and satellite dishes didn’t always exist in this manner. The area was on the wild edge of the American colonial frontier two hundred and fifty years ago. James Booth, an officer who served under George Washington before the United States declared independence, settled in the Monogahela Valley in 1772. He was the first person of European ancestry to live there permanently. Nobody knew much about his earlier life, though. Historians couldn’t even agree on his parents or his place of birth. However he earned a minor historical footnote for the Boothsville settlement he founded in the valley, a few miles south of current Fairmont.

Five years later, Native Americans believed to be from the Shawnee tribe ambushed Booth and his party. He took an arrow to the chest and died. His memorial marked the spot of his death as well as his grave.


Some More Parks


Wheaties/Mary Lou Retton 2.15.12
Wheaties/Mary Lou Retton. Image provided by General Mills on Flickr (cc)

I noticed a small, less dramatic tendril on the eastern side of Fairmont too. The connecting feature went by a more interesting name, Pinch Gut Hollow Road. This road tethered Morris Park into the town boundaries. It seemed like a nice gesture for them to include a park although nothing made it particularly special. The 112 acre property featured nature trails, picnic pavilions, courts for basketball and tennis, and such. Again, nothing remarkable.

However, Fairmont bisected another park just where the tendril to I-79 Technology Park began. It recognized someone I’d certainly heard of before; Mary Lou Retton (map). She was one of the most memorable names from the U.S. Olympic team in 1984. Her gold medal began the United States’ dominance of women’s gymnastics. However, that didn’t really show why a park in Fairmont, West Virginia reflected her name. Well, that was her home town, so that explained it. She lived in Fairmont up until she started getting ready for the Olympics. The town should go ahead and annex the rest of the park while they’re at it.

That tendril to the I-79 Technology Park packed a lot into it. Mary Lou Retton anchored one end of it, Captain James Booth anchored the other, and of course the technology park itself formed a nice bulb for an exclamation point at the end.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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