We then headed back to Blanding for the
archaeology lecture. The return trip into Blanding took only about 30 minutes. Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum is situated right next to a small Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) site within the city
limits of Blanding. We still had about an hour of daylight, so we explored and photographed the small ruin before the lecture began.
The lecture was held at a meeting of the local
archaeological society. Unfortunately, we did not record the name of the lecturer, but he has been working at Chimney Rock for a number of years and was very knowledgeable. Chimney Rock is an
Ancestral Pueblo site (a "Chacoan outlier", just as Edge of the Cedars is) located in southwestern Colorado to the east of Mesa Verde, and built in front of twin rock spires. The site was completed in
1076, which was a year in which the full moon rose between the spires at sunset on the winter solstice.
The outer walls of the Chimney Rock site converge, and archaeologists believe that
the convergence was intentional. If lines are extended from the converging walls, they point directly between the two rock spires. Cliffs in the distance to the west have been
marked with the location of the sun at the solstices and equinoxes, as well as the location of the nova which became the Crab Nebula. This nova appeared in 1054, when the
great Chaco Canyon site was mostly complete, and about 20 years before work was begun at the Chimney Rock site. The nova caused a considerable stir worldwide
because when it first appeared it was brighter than the moon at night and could be seen during the day as well. Haley's comet appeared in 1066, so there were "portents in the heavens" abounding in the era.
The large building at Chimney Rock was "aligned"
with cosmic events. Our lecturer suggested that, as a very late Chacoan outlier site, Chimney Rock may have been built to "placate the gods," or as a ceremonial site, in a time of increasing drought. The Chimney
Rock site was burned and abandoned in 1125, with no sign of warfare. It may have been destroyed by its inhabitants before they left. Chaco was abandoned
soon thereafter. Most scholars agree that the Ancestral Pueblo were influenced by the pre-Colombian civilizations in Mexico, which had extensive astronomical
and calendrical knowledge. Evidence of such contact has been found at many Chaco Culture sites.
The moon rises between the spires of Chimney Rock on the winter solstice
every 18 years. The next opportunity to see this will be in 2004. Chimney Rock Archaeological Area has a website at www.chimneyrockco.org.
After the lecture we stayed to chat with members of the society and we met Reed and Norma Lance. Reed has investigated an archaeological site in the area
that contains a number of petroglyphs, and over a number of years has documented how shadows and light rays interact with the petroglyphs at the solstices and equinoxes. His article on the subject was published in Blue Mountain Shadows, The Magazine of San Juan County History, Volume 13,
Summer 1994. Ed was so intrigued by what they told us that he purchased a copy of the magazine, which was popular enough to have required reprinting in 1998. It contains a number of excellent articles on local
archaeology. The Edge of the Cedars Museum store carries copies.
23 June 2000. We left our lovely campsite in the mountains rather late--almost 11 a.m.--and drove to Hovenweep National Monument
. It took about an hour and a half to get there from the mountains outside Blanding. There are six major groups of ruins in Hovenweep National Monument, four in Utah and two in Colorado. Cajon
Mesa, where much of the national monument is located, was the home of Native American settlers from archaic times, and the area is littered with remnants of surface
dwellings built by Ancestral Pueblo peoples from about 700 C.E. Today this is extremely rugged, desertified country, but prior to 1300 it was farmed intensively. The
Twin Towers ruin is dated at 1232. One of the latest tree-ring dates, from a beam in the Hovenweep "Castle," is 1277, and the latest verifiable date is 1281. Tree ring data
indicate that a severe drought began in 1276, lasting for 20 years, and this is widely held to be the reason for the abandonment of the communities.
These are some of the most imposing ruins we have seen outside of Chaco Canyon and Canyon de Chelly. I had
visited here in 1990, but unfortunately, neither time I've been there have I had enough time to explore them fully and
photograph them properly. It would be easy to spend a week at Hovenweep, waiting for the light to be right at every ruin. The weather was very hot and dry. Be sure to take plenty of water if you plan to do much hiking there.
At 3 p.m. we drove back to Blanding and took a $60 room at Motel 8. Ed
was still keen to stay at the smaller, cheaper motel we had found the day before, but the Motel 8 had a laundry facility and we were getting short on clean clothes. As an added bonus we discovered a hot tub just down the hall
from our room, so after we took showers we slipped in there--we had the place to ourselves. We had supper at the Old Timer Restaurant next door, then went back to Edge of the Cedars Museum to look at their books. Ed
bought a copy of Ancient Ruins of the Southwest by David Grant Noble. This book is well worth having if you are interested in Native American ruins--he gives directions to each site,
along with a page or two of historical information.
By the time we had been in Blanding for two days we had begun to notice things about it. Like there are
no liquor stores, no bars, and no churches. And all the kids there are clean cut: no earrings, nose rings, tongue studs, no tattoos, no purple hair. Everyone is pleasant and friendly. The climate is cool and
comfortable. It is a perfect place from which to make expeditions to places like Hovenweep, Canyon de Chelly, Arches, Natural Bridges, Zion, Mesa Verde, and more.
24 June 2000. We slept late, dawdled around, ate breakfast at the Old Timer
(we never found any other options), bought supplies, and headed out around 9 a.m. Our destination was Natural Bridges National Monument, but on the way we stopped at the Butler Wash and Mule Canyon
ruins. Both are described in Ancient Ruins of the Southwest.
Butler Wash is the more visually interesting of the two. There was an entry in
the log book at the trailhead stating that someone had been unable to find the ruin and that "they" should mark the trail better, but we had no difficulty
whatever--there were stone cairns at regular intervals that clearly marked the trail. The sun was hot, but the hike was not strenuous--perhaps ten minutes to get to a
place where we could see the ruin. The ruin is set into a cliff in such a way that it must have been easily defensible.
Water ran off the cliff and cascaded down in front of the buildings, and we assume that there was a spring or creek down in the wash as well. They must have farmed the wash.
Off the trail, here and there, between the desert flora, there are patches of clumpy
black soil, known as cryptobiotic soil crust (cyanobacteria). Sybil pointed it out to me and urged me not to step in it. Being a biologist, she already knew what it was: a
bacterium that grows in the dirt. The crust seems to grow in places where not much else can survive, and has the beneficial effects of stabilizing the soil, fixing nitrogen, and
converting carbon dioxide to oxygen. Since a crust a few inches thick can take hundreds of years to grow, it's no wonder conservationists are interested
in preserving it. Sybil read that the area was desert-like 10,000 years ago when wooly mammoths roamed the land, so is is quite feasible that the cryptobiotic soil has been there since that era,
and possibly a whole lot longer. Cyanobacteria is believed to have been crucial, millions of years ago, in oxygenating the earth's atmosphere.
Mule Canyon is a rather small L-shaped ruin with a well-preserved kiva. The first occupation of the site was around 750 c.e., and the community was at its height between
1000 and 1150, making it earlier than the Butler Wash settlement, which was apparently built sometime in the 13th century C.E.