Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Ancient Dwellings

Sheer talus cliffs, pock-marked by hundreds of caves, rise majestically before us as morning heat builds. We follow a narrow path that winds like a serpent’s tale between natural curves of low rock walls and ancient cave dwellings, at times with barely enough space to walk through. Strangely shaped rock outcroppings thrust themselves upward at varying intervals.

Reconstructed talus homes cling to canyons and mesas all around us. Smoke smudges from fires used for cooking and heat half a millennium ago still color the walls and ceilings of some caves, while primitive petroglyphs adorn others. The girls scurry up a 10- to 12-foot long wooden pole ladder and enter a wide cave that could easily seat a dozen people. They mug for a photo as they back down the ladder.

This is Bandelier National Monument, located 48 miles northwest of Santa Fe. The Anasazi people inhabited this area from approximately 1000 AD to 1500 AD, and their ancestors reportedly still live in the present-day pueblos of San Ildefonso and Cochiti.

Cochiti residents guided anthropologist-historian, Adolph F.A. Bandelier, here in 1880. In 1916 archaeologist Edgar L. Hewett helped establish the monument. Now part of the National Park Service, Bandelier includes 32,737 acres and 70 miles of trails. Vehicles may travel on only three miles of public roadway and wheelchair access is limited.

Stomachs growling, we wind our way downward along the narrow rock walkways, heading for air-conditioning, new adobe and lunch.