Friday, May 14, 2004
In and out of spring
Over spring vacation we traveled to the western states of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Colorado, and I'm still dreaming of canyons and sweeping vistas. We drove in and out of spring as we traveled and changed elevation. At Lee's Ferry, where settlers first crossed the Colorado River, the temperature was in the 80s and cactus was in bloom. Hours earlier we'd left Bryce Canyon National Park, where it had snowed overnight. Bryce Canyon is filled with innumerable stone pillars called "hoodoos." A harder rock "cap" slows erosion in the column under it, while the softer surrounding cliff is worn away. The bands of rock in shades of pink and red looked even more beautiful dusted with snow. After leaving Lee's Ferry we drove on to Grand Canyon Village, and the temperature dropped again from the 80s to the 50s. Cactus there was not yet flowering.
All of Carlisle would fit comfortably inside the Grand Canyon, which is up to 15 miles across. The canyon illustrated society's evolving environmental awareness. To reduce summer traffic and air pollution, the park has closed some roads to cars, and provides free shuttle-bus transportation to the various overlooks and trail heads. On the other hand, only two miles down the rim trail from the village lies the remains of what was once one of the country's most productive uranium mines. The rim trail used to go right through the area where the ore was hauled up and transported away, but the trail detours around it now, because the park service noticed that the ground there is radioactive. Would anyone today build a trail through a uranium mine?
Besides the canyon and mesa country, we also drove through miles of flat range land and desert, including the Navaho Reservation, where most people live in houses about the size of your living room. The landscape held many surprises. In Monument Valley, huge rock buttes rise from the plane. In western Arizona, a limestone cavern lies 210 feet below the ground. Near Flagstaff is Meteor Crater, a very round, 3/4-mile-wide pit. (The remote landscape also held cell towers, evidently, because our cell phone functioned even far from population centers.)
It was fun to observe some of the western wildlife. We encountered both western and mountain bluebirds, jack rabbit, coyote and plenty of mule deer. We didn't see any elk — except in the restaurant where I ate lunch inches from the chin of a large mounted specimen. He was huge, his head and neck reaching four feet out from the wall. A mountain lion snarled at us from across the room. This taxidermist's heaven reminded me a lot of the old Willow Pond restaurant that used to be in Concord. We also saw two stuffed jack-a-lopes, but unfortunately were never lucky enough to spot a live one.
Some of the most intriguing sights were the cliff dwellings of the ancient Anasazi Indians. Early Native Americans lived and farmed on the top of Mesa Verde for over 600 years. For an unknown reason, around the year 1200 some moved to dwellings built into alcoves in the cliffs. From the cliff dwellings the farmers had to climb up and down steep trails to reach the fields on the mesa top - in places, using incredibly small hand and toe holds cut into the rock. After about a century all the people left — migrating to other areas of the southwest. What caused the Anasazi to abandon Mesa Verde? They left behind beautiful pottery, but no written record. Data from tree-rings shows that they left during a two-decade-long drought.
Pollution has reduced the view from Mesa Verde from roughly 100 down to 80 miles, but this still looked amazing to me — it's quite different from the cozy domain we survey from our back porch.
We wondered if all the hours of driving would be too much for our nine-year-old daughter, but she rode very happily in the back seat surrounded by her drawing materials and books. Listening to music or a Harry Potter book recording also helped the time in the car seem brief.
Back home again, we found the forsythia and daffodils in our yard had opened while we were away, trees are starting to leaf out, and the grass is now a vivid green. After nine days of chasing spring, we finally found it — back home in Carlisle.
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito