Carolina: Cruising Past 70: OLA: Discovering Enchanted Places and People, New Mexico, Part 1

Monday, November 19, 2012

OLA: Discovering Enchanted Places and People, New Mexico, Part 1

the 1000-year old North House in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
Between the right eye cataract surgery and the left (please see ), Bill and I made a quick trip to New Mexico, making it the 48th US state (plus 9 Canadian provinces and 6 Mexican states in 3 ½ years)! It is the 47th state that entered the Union in 1912, followed closely by Arizona and later in 1959 by Alaska and Hawaii. It is interesting to note that New Mexico and Arizona are the last strongholds of the American Indians, retaining the best preserved ruins and the largest reservations.

desert my color!
The New Mexico and Arizona territories were conquered by Spanish explorers at about the same time (1500s) as the Philippines. We were also both ceded (as was other Islands) to the US in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. Thus Native American culture holds a special interest for me in two areas: my past through our shared history of Spanish colonization and my future as a concerned US citizen.

the South House, Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
The city of Vigan (please see ) in the Philippines and the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, are both World Heritage Sites. Vigan preserves more of the Spanish influence while Taos preserves what was there before the Spanish came and then some. Taos Pueblo with a population of 4,500 is the oldest continuously inhabited community in the US and is a member of the Eight Northern Pueblos. 95,000 acres of preserved land called the Blue Lake Wilderness Area of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the source of the river that runs through the Pueblo, is attached to it.
hornos at Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
cemetery and old church in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
We had some of their bread, baked without dairy in outdoor adobe ovens (hornos).  Red Willow Creek splits the Pueblo into north which has the Hlaauma and south which has the Hlaukkwima, two adobe Great Houses believed to be more than 1000 years old. The old church and cemetery had been there since 1619. But the new San Geronimo Church was built in 1850.  In 1680 they revolted against the Spanish but in 1706 they were reconquered. Today the modern city of Taos lies nearby, with a population close to 5,000, and with a beautiful Plaza that serves as a place for art and crafts and domiciles for tourists.

San Geronimo Church in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, built 1850
the Low Road, and the Rio Grande, to Taos, New Mexico 
From our base in Santa Fe we went to Taos through the Low Road, running parallel to the Rio Grande whose banks are beautifully gold and yellow in fall with a magnificent River Gorge at its widest! Then we left Taos back to Santa Fe through the High Road of lush evergreens. By dusk we finally found the Santuario de Chimayo built in the 1800s in a small valley with its original 6-foot crucifix standing in a small well-kept plaza. 

Santuario de Chimayo on the High Road from Taos, New Mexico
Up to this day, the Taos Pueblo and all the others descendants of ancestral Puebloan culture survive in New Mexico and northern Arizona. They continue to exist as sovereign nations, favored in fact by US laws with minority rights. But before the arrival of the Europeans, American Indians went through three periods. The Paleo-Indian Period was when people first came into (or first originated in) the Americas (some say at least 13,000 years ago) by land bridges or coastal boating. It lasted until the Ice Age (some 10,000 years ago).

Then the Archaic Period (until about 4,000 to 5,000 years ago) was when American Indians spread out across the continent, moving into every habitable portion of the continent, nomadic in culture. By the end of this period, North America was a veritable patchwork of differing cultures, languages, and societies, some having kinship with those of the Eskimos, others with those in Mexico, and others neither.

the parking lot at the Visitor Center
Chaco Culture National Historic Park
The Formative period, beginning at various times between 3,000 - 5,000 years ago, witnessed a flourishing of American Indian societies. In the Southwest US, those who belong to the Anasazis, ancestors to the Pueblos of today, erected multi-room, multi-storied ‘Great Houses’, built roads to connect their communities, and traded with other societies. This period ended with the colonization of North America by the Europeans.

the Fajada Butte as you enter Chaco Canyon
reportedly used for astronomical purposes
It is best represented in the Chaco Culture National Historic Park about 150 miles west of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Getting there we passed through scenic byways and many desert beauties but the last maybe 20 miles were through very rough graveled roads. The Chaco Canyon and the National Park stretches 10 miles in the San Juan Basin, barren but beautiful, home to the ruins of 9 Great Houses connected to one another and to other societies through a network of roads. This must have been the center of trade,  worship, learning, constructed around 900 and 1115 AD.

Bill at the northern end of Pueblo Bonito
Chaco Culture National Historic Park
The nine are: Penasco Blanco, Pueblo Alto, Kin Kletso, Hungo Pavi, Pueblo del Arroyo, Chero Ketl, Una Vida, and Wijiji. The most famous, thoroughly studied, largest, and best preserved is Pueblo Bonito with 650 rooms. Each of them had one or more ceremonial kivas, big circular chambers. Constructed using sandstone, in beautiful patterns, fitting together tightly and reinforced by logs to become multi-story, the rooms and kivas are arranged in grids with doorways and vents that connect room to room.  Although less preserved, less advanced, and more recent than the Pyramids in Mexico (please see…), they are nevertheless, for me, the most fascinating piece of the history of pre-European America.

Carol at the southern end of Pueblo Bonito
Chaco Culture National Historic Park
The Great Houses are intriguing as studies revealed that only about 5-10 of the rooms of a Great House were used for habitation each with an accompanying storage room. The other bigger (more than double in size) suites are associated with the kivas and suggest political or social boundaries as no doors connected them. A great majority of the rooms, however, smaller and road-related, opening to the roads with no access from the inside, suggesting uses other than habitation (stores/temporary storage?).

one of the several kivas at Pueblo Bonito
Chaco Culture National Historic Park
An extraordinary number of artifacts, from the Pacific coast to the west and Mexico to the south, compared to the hundreds estimated to have lived there, were excavated, especially from the trash mounds. And the extent of the road network, first noticed in the 1900s is still being expanded by ongoing discoveries. They were engineered roads about 30 feet across with berms on the sides, extending far and wide. Other great houses were found along this network of roads and today it is estimated that they all (about 150) were spread over almost 300,000 kilometers.

Plaza at the modern city of Taos, New Mexico
The phenomenon that is Chaco is truly intriguing. It must have been the center of a vast regional network for the American Indians at the time, a haven for barren nomadic living. As mysterious as its building, however, is its evacuation. Its descendants are all over the Southwest. One of them, Taos Pueblo, is still alive with its traditions preserved and with self-governance enshrined. What an enchanting place and people! How I wish indigenous Philippines was better preserved.