Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico
Guest Blog from Eliza Thomas, the Folk Whisperer.
This blog is intended to be a true(ish) account of a road-trip taken from Asheville to San Francisco, early November, 2017. It’s a long journey – all 2594 miles of it – and so I’ve just focused on the highlights here, filtered by my own academic penchant. It was done in a 2001 Dodge Dakota Pickup 4WD, pulling a silver trailer, with London our mahmout bodyguard. Enjoy the ride!
Day 5: New Mexico
As we entered New Mexico the waves of heat rippled like mirages on the long road stretching to vanishing point ahead. We’d been on the road for nearly a week and were starting to flag a little. Perhaps the prospect of what waited for J made her increasingly apprehensive. We’d been driving hard and were in need of some serious R&R – and so I insisted we stopped at the Blue Hole. It’s an 81 feet deep natural artesian spring of crystal clear water – an oasis in the desert, and oh boy, what welcome relief! We splashed around in it – having got there early enough for it to be reasonably quiet – and lolled about on sun-loungers in our sunnies and skimpies, flipping through magazines (or reading Devereux’s book on Mysterious Ancient America in my case), sipping ice-cold drinks. We had left London with the trailer, plenty of water, a full bowl, and the air-con on full and he was wagging furiously by the time we got back – giving us a bark, as if to say, ‘Hell, why do you get to have all the fun?’ Somehow, I don’t think they’d let a mahmout in the Blue Hole. Feeling refreshed we went on our way. We gladly sailed by the turn-off for Las Vegas (where everything bad about America is conveniently in one place) and decided not to take the big detour south – for the ‘obligatory’ pilgrimage Roswell and Area 51. We knew it was going to be cheesy and full of alien tat, (J had been there). Yes, it holds an iconic (an overused word) place in American popular culture and I used to love The X Files, but J said I’d find it disappointing (’just a few old hangars and lots of tacky alien truck-stops’). However, what we decided to go and see instead were the Very Large Array dishes – another cinematic landmark (as featured in Contact, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, etc). Truly awe-inspiring and enough to make anyone wonder if the truth was ‘out there’. We stopped here for an explore – the visitor ‘center’, was informative, and they served excellent coffee, where I made notes. That night I suggested we pitched up in the desert to do some star-gazing – because I’d been bitten by the bug. There was something about these wide skies that made you just want to look up. It is no wonder then that the earliest (Paleo-Indian) cultures seemed particularly obsessed with the movements of the stars and the sun. There is evidence of their presence here from 14,000 years ago. We spent the afternoon visiting the Petroglyph National Monument near Albuquerque, marvelling at the estimated 24,000 pieces of rock art left by the previous inhabitants of this land. London was taken on a very long walkies as we trekked around the Western Trail. It was hot work, but worth it. These wonders had been here a long-time, preserved by the extra-ordinary climate and isolation. The petroglyphs often depict animal and human forms in geometric shapes swirling with patterns, thought to be a depiction of the entoptics resulting from trance-states – Peyote art. It is easy to imagine having a vision out here in this hallucinatory place.
- Jody Foster is my Number One Heroine!
We concluded our day’s exploring with a real highlight of the trip – the World Heritage Site of Chaco Canyon, the ‘center of an ancient world’, as the official website boasts. This was the hub between 850 and 1250 AD of an intense level of monument building and ritual activity by the Chacoan people. There is too much here to go into – worthy of another blog by itself – but suffice to say, it was awesome. Go and check it out! We found a spot by the Three Rivers petroglyphs – strange carvings high on the rocks, truly in the middle of nowhere. Pulling up in the trailer amid a dusty canyon made me have a Breaking Bad moment. I felt tempted to say ‘Let’s cook!’ I would make a good Jesse Pinkman to J’s Walter White I reckon! After we fixed up some food, we settled in for the night. The stars came out in all their glory – as though they had been newly born, and not fading recordings of long-dead stars. A piece of rock art in Chaco Canyon depicting a many-rayed star, a crescent and a handprint apparently records the time when the Crab Nebula was born (or became first visible), back in 4 July, 1054. The Anasazi were active at that time in Chaco Canyon – and it would seem the petroglyph records this event. The desert is the place where things are made or unmade. Religions were forged in the fires of such places. The prophets let themselves be purified by its harshness, tested, tempted and transformed. We huddled around a small brush fire – feeling the vastness of the wild, untamed night-desert around us filled with inchoate dangers. It was thrilling to think we were in Apache Country and the state boasted some of the most famous outlaws in the history of the Wild West – the Apache Kid, Geronimo, Cochise, Victorio, Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch…! The stuff of legend. And here I was. I was glad of the presence of J and her trusty hound. J got out her guitar (I was hoping she would) and began to strum away – guitars always sound good by campfires, but J can actually play hers well, and, boy, what a voice! It summed up the immensity and the intimacy of the moment. She dedicated to song (’Those Who Have Gone’) to the ancient peoples of this place, the Anasazi, the Hohokam, the Apache, the Navajo. It sent a tingle up my spine. The fire spat as the resin oozing out of the brushwood dripped onto the flames, sending swirls of sparks up into the night.
For the record, here’s J’s song:
Those Who Have Gone
Can you hear them in the sage brush?
hear them in the rain?
Whispers in the canyon,
thunder on the plain.
Footprints on the desert floor
red hand in cave shadow,
Beasts seen from high above,
lines too long to follow.
They linger in the place names,
in old customs, in a word.
They speak to us in dreams,
in songs that cannot be heard.
They are the first people,
those who have gone,
they are the wise children,
those who have gone,
they are the silent stewards,
those who have gone,
they live on in us,
those who have gone.
The journey continues tomorrow…
Eliza Thomas is a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests are the connections between folklore and folk music in Lowland Scotland. She is the co-convenor of the now annual SIDHE (Scottish International Dialogues in Hermeneutic Ethnomusicology) Conference, and a contributor to The Cone and The Bottle Imp. She blogs and tweets as the Folk Whisperer.