Go Where the Ancient Ones Lived to Honor the Earth

With Native American Day coming up on Friday, September 28 (yes, that’s tomorrow) and National Public Lands Day on Saturday, here are three places you could go to honor both public lands and and the United States’s Native American history. I’m mentioning these three because: I’ve been to all of them; they are national parks, thus public lands; and although there is similarity between them, they are quite distinct. Although, these are the three I’ve chosen, these are not the only places where the Anasazi lived in the U.S. Anasazi means Ancient Ones, by the way.

(The photo, posted by slongtoo on Flickr is from Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico)

Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico, is quite the drive off a major highway. The last few miles, are not paved. This means getting there is not a quick, “Let’s go see Chaco Canyon,” but an outing that requires a bit of time. Once you get there, you’re rewarded to experiencing five major dwelling sites of what were possibly Hopi ancestors. Enough of the structures remain that as you walk through them you can get a sense of what life was like here hundreds of years ago. This is my husband’s favorite place in New Mexico. He swears he can feel its spiritual energy. Through October there are Chaco Night Sky programs where you can dabble in astronomy. The view of the sky, of course, is spectacular when you are out in the middle of nowhere.

Although I think Chaco is amazing, Bandelier National Monument northwest of Santa Fe is my favorite place in New Mexico. Perhaps this is because it’s the first place in the U.S. where I saw how Native Americans once lived. When you grow up in Kentucky, New York and Pennsylvania, and trips meant summers at your grandparents, most of what you learn is from history books. (I headed west of the Mississippi after the Peace Corps.) To see the actual place is history up close and personal. Here, on the side cliffs, people carved huge living spaces in the soft rock earth. You can still see the darkened ceilings from the cooking fires. In a couple of spots there are pictographs and petroglyphs that add to the idea that people did indeed live here. My favorite section is where you climb down a long pole ladder into a kiva where the men used to gather and worship. It’s a small adventure. The area around Bandelier is forested and gorgeous. Like Chaco, there is a very well done museum that includes movies, displays with actual artifacts and extensive descriptions.

Of the three, Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, Colorado is the most commercialized and the most visited of the three. Bandelier is a sweet, cozy, type place in comparison. Going to Mesa Verde reminds me a bit of the experience of going to the Grand Canyon. The scenery is splendid, but RVs on the road sure take up a lot of space. One of the reasons that Mesa Verde has so many visitors each year is because of its stature. Compared to Bandelier’s few cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde is king. It has 600. The entire park has 4,000 archaeological sites. This is where ancestors of today’s Pueblo Indians lived from 600 A.D. to 1300 A.D. If you do go, take one of the tours. You can only get to the Balcony House (only open into the beginning of October), the Cliff Palace (open until the beginning of November) or the Spruce House (open from November to March) this way. The Long House closes after Labor Day.