It’s a cold night. The thermometer says 34 degrees in the van. That means it’s mid-20’s outside. There’s a breeze, so I start the van and turn on the heater. When the inside temp hits 50 I get dressed and we hop out — leaving the van running — to walk around the campground loop.
The inside van temp is 62 when we get back. We have breakfast and about 8:30 I head to the Visitor’s Center for tour tickets. The only one still available today is for Balcony House. I get one for 11. Long House is available tomorrow. I take 10 for that one. Unfortunately, Cliff Palace, the most photographed Pueblo structure in the US is closed for repairs until the 26th. So it goes…
Balcony House is an hour drive from here, so we have another hour to stop along the way at other sites.
We stop at Park Point. The highest spot in the park. It’s at 8572 feet.
The spire is Shiprock. A sacred site to the Navaho. (This is a 10x photo on the iPhone 7 Plus.)
We head off to the the Balcony House tour. The ruins are over an hour drive into the mountains from the park entrance and campground.
We arrive about 20 minutes before tour time and walk around the large parking area. Sherman has to stay in the van for this one. No dogs allowed. There are 42 of us on the Balcony House tour. The ranger is great. She’s a historian that has focused on these time periods. She tells great stories. We get the safety spiel. Nothing but water. Don’t touch. Don’t lean on the walls. Don’t stand on the walls. Stay on the trail. Also suggestions about coming up the long ladders that give a taste of what it would be like moving around in the Pueblo. However the actual ladders they used were shorter! Never more than one level. Then a lateral move and up another ladder. She didn’t say why, but to me that makes sense for children and the elderly. Shorter ladders are more stable, easier to build, don’t vibrate. The average lifespan was about 40. But, if you made it past 5, and then past adolescence, you would most likely live into your 60’s. It’s easy to forget how dramatically average lifespan decreases with high mortality in the birth to 5 year range.
We start down the trail and as we get to the 2nd control gate, she asks, “Imagine your wandering through here with your family group. Maybe 30-40 people. You walk through this area and know “This is IT! This is where we’re supposed to stop and build a home.” Why? What’s special about this place? A number of us offered ideas like, trees for buildings and fuel, water in the canyons, game for food, easy to defend… She does the good teacher routine and says, “Yes. Good. What else?” The answer is that the top of these mesas is the best farm land around. Not for mechanized farming. But for dry-farming, where seeds are planted deep and little water is needed. The mesas have a slight southern slope, which is a benefit for light and water. That slope creates a 30 days longer growing season than the valleys. And the winds deposit a half an inch or more of new soil every year. A
We go through the second gate and…
Then it’s up the 60 foot (3-story) ladder. You’re seeing about 2/3 of it here. We go up 2 at a time. The ladder vibrating the whole time. Don’t look down she says. I realize how I’ve become accustomed to heights and swaying bridges during the hikes. I enjoy the ladder.
At the top of the ladder we’re in an open space.with a wall along the edge. The view looking along the wall. A million dollar view. This is the only plaza in the whole complex that has a low wall — 18″ — along the edge. Why?
Looking toward one end of the village. All the wooden beams are original. Archeologists date the dwellings by taking small cores of the wood and match it up against a tree ring timeline that they’ve developed that spans about 1500 years. All trees in an area have the same pattern of growth in any specific time period.
Here you can see the different masonry styles used in different periods. There are at least three remodel periods evidenced here.
One of villages Great Kivas. The largest roof beams are placed on the top of these posts. The whole roof would be the thickness to ground level. You would have been able to walk across the kiva just as if it were level ground. Some years ago an archeologist stayed in one of the smaller Kivas in the winter when it was more than -20ºF. With a handful of small firewoods, the nighttime temp never went below 55ºF. In these societies, the kivas were more living spaces than ceremonial spaces.
Ranger stories… Based on the number of kivas and rooms, the guess is that about 100 people lived here. This area is like a public plaza — with no wall. These kivas would have been level with the surrounding rock when roofed.
You You can see the rocks ahead where the passage has been restricted with a higher wall on the outside, than the inside.
For the last couple hundred years of residence, this entrance/exit required crawling through this small space. It’s about 12 feet long with crawl doors at each end for about 3 feet. In between you can stand up. The guess is that the entrance was restricted as a defense, to make it harder for others to sneak in, or impossible for a invader to amass and enter. I don’t recall that there was any overt warfare going on, but there were changes in weather and population during this time. The stand up time allows for items to be passed to a person in the middle space, making it much easier to move things in and out of the village. Without it every item would have to be carried through a 12 foot crawl space. That would get old very fast!
The ladders out. This is the actual entry point for the village. Up a ladder. Step to the right and climb a dozen steps carved into the rock, then up another ladder. Where the fence is on the right is where the steps begin.
After a walk around the parking area with Sherman, we continue around the loop and stop at many other overlooks.
There have been a few fires in the area recently. Where they’ve burned and killed the trees part of the reason for the hot fires is a kind of grass that ranchers planted that was drought resistant and the grazing animals liked. It grows thicker than the native grass and when there’s a fire burns hotter and longer. These are piñon and juniper trees.
A stop at the museum. I take a quick walk through, look at the pots and determine that I’d rather spend time at the Anasazi Heritage Center tomorrow.
I stop at an overlook where there’s a good cell signal to make a couple calls.