May 1, 2019
“To encounter the sacred is to be alive at the deepest center of human existence. Sacred places are the truest definitions of the earth; they stand for the earth immediately and forever; they are its flags and shields. If you would know the earth for what it really is, learn it through its sacred places. At Devil’s Tower or Canyon de Chelly or the Cahokia Mounds, you touch the pulse of the living planet; you feel its breath upon you. You become one with a spirit that pervades geologic time and space.” -N. Scott Momaday
Here I am, becoming one with a spirit that pervades geologic time and space. Today marks the four month point of my twelve-month journey. Like a threaded needle sewn through the heart of America, the journey is a Navajo textile whose final form is only one-third revealed. As Ansel Adams put it, “the clocks stopped long ago.” Without my modern devices, I would have no honest idea what day it was – what month, even. Even the handy calendar on my phone now looks as abstract to me as the petroglyphs lining the walls of Chaco Canyon. I have driven 30,000 miles, and it might as well be 30,000 years – through time and space. This is deep space. This is the deep inner space where people lose themselves, go mad, dis…in…te…grate. Or, this is the deep space where you become one with the spirit. To touch the living rock of the canyon is to touch the warm face of the Earth – to connect, to commune, and to come home.
The last ten days has been an intensive tour through the Four-corners region, and the Ancestral Puebloan history of this continent. I have visited most of these sites before, but this time was different. This time it felt concentrated and complete. The Ancestral Puebloans (once called Anasazi, a Navajo name that contemporary Puebloans do not like) were an advanced culture that rose from nomadic hunter-gatherer groups to an organized and distinct society. They flourished for over 1500 years across the Colorado Plateau. They built sophisticated and complex pueblos and dwellings – communities tucked into the canyon walls like the living rock of the Earth itself. They maintained an extensive network of remarkably engineered roads radiating out from Chaco Canyon across the Colorado Plateau. Today, the contemporary Puebloans: Hopi, Zuni, Jemez, Santo Domingo, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, and others are direct descendants. Visiting these sites, these pueblo ruins and trails and petroglyphs, means more than just learning or understanding. It means connecting with the past, through place – an encounter with the sacred. These may very well be the most important sites in the entire National Park System.
The high desert sun has a way of bleaching out those muddied memories and purifying the soul like so many scattered white bones across the red sand. What remains is clear and sharp like the echo of thunder across the canyon walls and the crystalline perfection of a rainbow’s arc across the valley. I have encountered the sacred. I am alive at the deepest center of human existence. I am going to miss being here. I always do.
Parks visited since April 21st:
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Yucca House National Monument
Mesa Verde National Park
Hovenweep National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site
Petrified Forest National Park (return visit)
Navajo National Monument
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Rainbow Bridge National Monument