Saturday, November 22, 2008

(1) The Ancients

Like the Cherokee, I had to make my way west beyond the
Mississippi River--much father west, in my case. And far
more comfortable, too, as I winged my way to New Mexico.
Landing at the Albuquerque airport, I was suddenly made
aware that I was in a new land when I walked into the
terminal. Called the "Sunport," its emblem seemed to be
the Thunderbird. Throughout American Indian motifs were
displayed on the terminal's colorful walls as well as in other
ways. There was no doubt that I had arrived in the Southwest.

Yes--I had passed an initial interpreter's test, had applied
for, and got the job at the Bandelier National Monument.
The driver of the National Park Service car held up a sign,
noting my name. He helped me with my baggage, and
soon we were on our way to Bandelier.

The driver was a Pueblo Indian, a member of one of the
tribes who are direct descendents of the ancient Anasazi.
As we wound our way up towards Santa Fe, viewing the
backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, I noted a
road sign for the Pecos National Historical Park. From
preliminary study on the Anasazi, I knew that tthis park
included the ruins of an ancient pueblo.

As for the Bandalier National Monument, it was situated
north of Santa Fe and just south of Los Alamos, the famous
nuclear laboratory built during World War II, where the first
atom bombs were developed.

Upon settling-in, the Bandalier Center notified me that after
some exposure to the wildlands that I would mostly serve as
a historical-cultural interpreter at both the "Longhouse," which
includes dwellings of the ancient Anasazi as well as at the
museum that houses artifacts of these ancestral people of
the contemporary Pueblo, Hopi, and Zuni tribes.

The entire park encompassed more than 30,000 acres, most
of which was wildland that was home to a multitude of animals
and plants and trees. Our black bear was present. So
"Smokey" had made his way out here! There were mule deer,
elk, and mountain lions too! Birds and butterflies galore, and
snakes and lizards. There were hiking trails; and in the winter,
when much of the park lies under a vast snow-field, people
would oft do cross country ski-ing as well as tramp around the
trails on snow shoes. In varied ways Bandelier was enjoyed
by many all year round.

But before I would start as an interpreter, I was not only
to receive basic training at Bandelier but also would be
sent to Chaco Canyon for more advanced training about
the cultural history of the Anasazi. So, having understood all
this, I figured that I probably would be at Bandelier for a long
time--considering all the investment.

However, my first order of business at Bandelier was to
reconnoiter the wildlands that composed at least 70 percent
of the park. Bordering the Jemez Mountains, there were
fairly deep canyons forged by the Rio Grande. And near the
river there was a wetland with cranes, frogs, all sorts of life
that would be associated with such. What got me, mainly, was
the fact that some of these areas were initially "rims" of vast
ancient volcanoes. And, when it came to the dwellings of
the ancient Anasazi, well those dug into a canyon wall, were
made possible because the material was a soft porous stone,
called "tuff," shaped by prehistoric volcanic eruptions of lava.

Right off, I knew that I would have to gain at least a minimal
understanding when it came to vulcanology.

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