Ancient Door Picture of the Week

Ancient Door - A mysterious door between Lomaki rooms beckons you to see what's on the other side.
Ancient Door – A mysterious door between Lomaki rooms beckons you to see what’s on the other side.

When I photograph a place like Lomaki (the Hopi word meaning Beautiful House), I try to walk its perimeter, looking at how the light falls on it. Then I look at details that help fill in its story. As I move around, I’ll stop and take shots of things that intrigue me. My photos are more intuitive than systematic. I look for contrasts and shadow patterns that place the subject in a specific moment.

I was doing that when I entered the Lomaki ruin and came across the door in this week’s picture. I saw the door and thought, “This looks interesting.” I framed the shot and snapped the shutter. Typically, an image with a busy pattern in a uniform light doesn’t work because it looks like a Where’s-Waldo puzzle. However, the dagger of light on the room floor commands your eye to go through the opening. It’s a walk-towards-the-light moment.

As a younger man, I was six-foot tall, but gravity has taken its toll, and now my diminished stature is only 5 foot 11½ inches. Even in my current dwarf state, I had to do a full Asian bow to fit through the doorway. That means that the Pueblo people that built this structure were short. Otherwise, they would constantly bang their heads on the lentil when they came home Saturday nights drunk from the bar. Believe me, that gets old fast.

As I walked through the complex, I got to another room with a low window. Through it, I saw a creature with five legs. It gave me a fright. Was it a centaur with an extra appendage or a giant arachnid with three legs missing? On closer inspection, I saw three legs were carbon fiber, and the other pair wore shorts. The creature turned out to be a fellow photographer. She was a coed from ASU working on a YouTube video about Wupatki.

It’s funny how photographers behave when they bump into one another out in the field. After seeing another camera, they let down any guards. They stop being solitary wanderers and suddenly become highly social as they compare notes. “Did you see this?” You should go there.” In the age of digital photography, it’s gotten worse because now they can compare their shots on the back of their cameras and go into full chimpanzee mode, “Look at this one—ooh ooh ooh ah.”

After our pleasantry exchanges, we parted ways, and she returned to the parking lot. Of course, I didn’t ask for her name or YouTube channel. Queen Anne would kill me on the spot if she knew I talked to a college-aged woman in the field without her chaperoning. After I finished shooting, I hiked back to the parking lot, where Her Majesty was waiting in the car. If I was lucky, her nose was buried in her Kindle reader, and she didn’t notice anything. Before I could say a thing, she blurted out, “I asked that girl if I had to go rescue you.”

“What did she say?”

“She said you were happily wandering around snapping pictures, and you’d be there until you ran out of film.”

It was only then that I realized I was a bit hot, so I started the Jeep and guzzled some water in the cool air conditioning before driving back to Flagstaff. So far, there are no new YouTube Wupatki videos, but I’ll keep looking while I dream of mermaids.

You can see a larger version of Ancient Door on its Webpage by clicking here. Next week, I’ll show my last shot from Lomaki, so be sure to come back and see what we find.

Till next time
Jw

BTW:

It’s Thanksgiving week, so Queen Anne and I wish you a happy and safe turkey day.

Lomaki Picuter of the Week

Lomaki - The crooked walls look as if the fierce Northern Arizona winds will blow them over.
Lomaki – The crooked walls look like the fierce Northern Arizona winds will blow them over.

In the half-century that I’ve called Arizona home, I can’t count the times that I’ve traveled thru Flagstaff and then north on Highway U.S. 89. I travel that route to get to the Grand Canyon, Lee’s Ferry, Lake Powell, Monument Valley, Utah, or Colorado. My best guess would be once a year on average. Sometimes I even stop to take pictures along the way.

With that many trips, you’d think I’d pay no mind to the scenery, but that’s not true. There’s always something new. There’s one location that makes my jaw drop, no matter how many times I see it. I’m talking about the view at Sunset Crater Pass I wrote about last month. It’s an in-your-face example of something I learned in a college geography course: mountains affect climate.

The climate on the south side of the San Francisco Peaks is the polar opposite of that on the north. As you travel to Flagstaff from Phoenix, you climb into the pines, and the temperature can drop as much as 30° along the way. As fronts move north from the Gulf in the summer or west from the coast in winter, the mountains wring moisture from the air as it climbs the slopes. After passing over the mountains, the air is dry and picks up pressure on the way down. Dry air heats faster than humid air. The phenomenon creates a rain shadow on the mountain’s leeward side. The next time you travel north of Flagstaff, stop your car at the pass and take a look back—trees. Then turn to the north again—trees kept away.

Now that you know how mountains work, it’s easy to understand why the early Pueblo Tribes living at Wupatki lived in rock dwellings instead of log cabins. Amazingly, the Indians still used timbers to span the walls and hold up a roof. That means they had to drag lumber off the mountains by hand. They built their structures before the Spanish arrived, so they didn’t have horses.

This week we’re looking at one of the bigger pueblos in the National Monument—Lomaki. That’s a Hopi word that translates into English as “Beautiful House.” Anthropologists have partially restored its two-story walls. As you walk through the ruins, you begin to appreciate the ancient people’s masonry skills and tenacity. They must have had to rent scaffolding for walls that size at A-Z Rentals in town. It was either that or standing on one another’s shoulders. You’d do the same thing.

In this week’s picture, titled Lomaki, you get a good idea of the wall height. The windows are at eye level. A peculiar thing you notice in this shot is the walls are leaning. I’m not sure if the scientist put that feature in on purpose or if they weren’t as skilled as the original Pueblo builders. As a photographer, I have a thing about lines that aren’t level or square. Oceans don’t run downhill, so I wince whenever I see a seascape with a crooked horizon. On my first visit to Lomaki decades ago, its tilted walls jumped out at me. They look like a good wind will blow them over—and this area of Arizona is exceptionally windy. However, on this year’s visit, the walls were still standing and didn’t seem any worse, so maybe they’ll remain long after I’ve gone.

You can see a larger version of Lomaki on its Webpage by clicking here. Next week, we’ll walk around Lomaki and see its details. Come back then and see what we find.

Till next time
Jw

BTW:

The calendar cut-off day is Tuesday, so if you are interested, place your order.

Box Canyon Picture of the Week

A pair of Pueblo ruins adorn the cliff tops on either side of Box Canyon in Wupatki National Monument.
A pair of Pueblo ruins adorn the cliff tops on either side of Box Canyon in Wupatki National Monument.

It’s November already. Time passes so fast that the remaining hair on my head flutters behind me like a streamer in the wind. To make things worse, the landlord turned off the heat. Here in the foothills, we had a couple of mornings in the high 30s, and Queen Anne insisted on sleeping with the bedroom window open. When I got up, I was invisible, standing in front of the blue accent wall—nothing but a pair of whitey tighties and chattering teeth floating through space. This cold front is supposed to move out later this week, so I’ve resisted turning on the heater. Instead, we throw back the curtains, put on heavier sweaters, and shiver till noon.

With the new month, we started a new project and didn’t have to travel far to get to it. It’s the housing development across the street. The street is Highway U.S. 89, and the development is Wupatki National Monument. Wupatki shares the access road and visitor’s center with Sunset Crater National Monument—they’re conjoined twins. During this year’s fire season, the fires closed the 35-mile park road at the crater, but Wupatki remained open because it’s north and out of danger.

Wupatki is at the base of one of the Navajo’s four sacred mountains: Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks, Mount Taylor in New Mexico, Hesperus Mountain near Durango, and Blanca Peak outside of Alamosa. The Dine’ considers the area with these mountains their home. But, long before the tribe moved from central Canada, Pueblo Indians lived here. They left behind stone homes along the Colorado Plateau: from Wupatki to Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde south to Walnut Canyon.

Most Americans consider Mesa Verde National Park the most extensive collection of pueblo ruins, but Wupatki is its match. In some areas, our National Monument exceeds the Colorado Park in the number of dwellings per square mile. When you visit the monument, the maps direct you to displays unearthed and restored by archeologists that you can walk through and hear thousand-year-old ghosts. As you drive to these exhibits, keep your eyes peeled because you’ll see piles of rocks in the fields and on hilltops. These are not natural clumps of stones but more ruins that the scientists haven’t yet examined. These areas are set aside for future paleontologists to examine using more advanced tools.

There are so many ruins in Wupatki to enjoy I can’t cover them all in one month. For November, we’re only covering a half-mile hike called Box Canyon. In that short distance, you pass three ruins along the way to the main exhibit—Lomaki. This week’s picture is of a pair of stone buildings standing on the cliffs of Box Canyon. As I walked along the paved trail on a warm summer afternoon, I stopped at each ruin, photographing what I saw. The path led up a gentle slope from the parking area, past the first ruin. From there, I could see the second dwelling on the other side of the canyon, so I continued along the trail. I could have spent the rest of my time shooting these two, but when I reached this spot, I could see Lomaki, which is more prominent with even more rooms. I quickly framed this scene and moved on to the big show.

I chose this image to start this month’s project because it shows the proximity of the two ruins along the canyon walls and how they rise above the grasslands. I assume different families occupied them. There’s enough space for privacy, but they’re close enough to provide mutual protection and borrow the neighbor’s lawn mower.

You can see a larger version of Box Canyon on its Webpage by clicking here. Next week, we’ll walk up to Lomaki and spend some time there. Come back then for another episode of This Old House. I’ll leave the light on for you.

Till next time
Jw

BTW:

Don’t forget to get your calendar order in before the cut-off on the 15th.

Sinagua Pueblo Picture of the Week

Sinagua Pueblo - A two room stacked-stone ruin that the Sinagua people used for ceremonial purposes.
Sinagua Pueblo – A two-room stacked-stone ruin that the Sinagua people used for ceremonial purposes.

When Queen Anne and I married, we lived most of a decade in a second-floor condo. Besides living in cramped quarters, the thing we most disdained was lugging groceries from the parking lot and up those stairs. My right knee cracked with each step. We swore then that we’d never live in a two-story house.

The Sinagua people would’ve considered us Snowflakes. Imagine your family living in a small cave with a plastered rock façade built on the side of Walnut Canyon. They scaled the canyon walls (without stairs) to get to work. Once on top, the men tended small patches of fertile soil along the edge. They grew drought-resistant crops because their name means Without Water. At least, the Spanish called them that when they first visited the canyon. For protein, they hunted deer, elk, and big horn sheep. After butchering the game, they stuffed the meat into Safeway plastic bags and lowered it on ropes.

Given my extreme age, my most significant anxiety would be getting up in the middle of the night for a glass of Water. As it is, I struggle to find our kitchen in the dark, much less climb down to the creek and back. Of course, their local wise man was in his thirties, and he knew when to stand up and declare, “Today is a good day to die.” Then as he tossed his blanket over his shoulder, he’d tromp out of the camp to the nearest mountaintop, where he’d sit for weeks until dying of starvation. Once again, I’ve proved that exercise is unsuitable for you.

There are many disadvantages to living on a cliff-side cubby hole, but for me, it’s the TV reception. It’s lousy down there. You’d need to get cable or a satellite dish. Then you’d waste time waiting for the cable guy to show up.

There are two trails for you to explore when you visit Walnut Canyon National Monument. Both are under a mile long. The Island Trail is a loop that drops into the canyon, past several dwellings, and then climbs back to the rim. We’ll explore it next week. The Rim Trail stays on top of the mesa and is easier to hike. It goes past some old crop fields and a couple of ruins. I took this week’s picture on the Rim Trail.

The image that I call Sinagua Pueblo shows a two-room stone building of generous size. This structure was probably a communal building for ceremonies and grain storage, like your condo’s community center. Here is where the Sinagua unloaded their trucks after a Costco run. Surely you realize that I’m joking. Flagstaff doesn’t have a Costco. Recovered artifacts show that the Sinagua traded with the villages at Eldon Mountain, Wupatki, and Homolovi—after a short train ride to Winslow.

As you quietly stand and admire the pueblo’s stonework, you can hear Sinagua ghosts laughing, smoking peyote, and chanting with the rhythm of deerskin drums late into the night—until the neighbors come by and yell, “turn down those damn drums.” More cowbell.

I hope you enjoy seeing the pueblo at Walnut Canyon. You can view the Web version of Sinagua Pueblo on its page by clicking here. Next week, we’ll explore the Island Trail and show those photos—if I can only make it up this last flight of stairs.

Till next time
jw

Casa Malpais

One of the things tourists do upon arrival is to visit the city park. I don’t know why, but when you browse the brochures, the local park is usually at the top of the list of to-do things. For example, San Francisco has the Golden Gate Park, there’s Central Park in New York, and Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Phoenix has the Margaret T. Hance Deck Park, but I don’t think anyone has ever gone there. These are open spaces within the city that their leaders felt important to protect from development. Springerville has Casa Malpais which isn’t really a park in the traditional sense of the word, but rather a fourteen acre archaeological preserve that the city owns and maintains. In other words, it’s a Pueblo Indian ruins.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1966, Casa Malpais was built on a basalt ledge overlooking the Little Colorado River a couple of miles north of Springerville. The Mogollon people lived there from 1250 to 1350, before abandoning the site. Frank Cushing was the first European Archeologist to visit the Pueblo in the 1800s and the University of Arizona did partial excavations a hundred years later. The findings of that dig are on display at the museum on Main Street back in town.

Queen Anne and I wanted to see Casa Malpais yesterday, so we stopped by the museum to get directions. We found out that the pueblo is not open for self guided tours, but guides take visitors out to the site three times daily. Since it only cost $10.00 per person ($8.00 for geezers), we signed up for the next bus. As we waited for our tour, we watched a twenty-minute background film that explained the history and what to expect. The museum hosts made sure we had sturdy shoes, sun block and water before we left. At 1:00 we (just the two of us) boarded the shuttle for what was a private tour. After making sure we had all of our gear,  Phil, our guide drove us to the scene.

When we arrived we got off the bus and I slung my camera bag over my shoulder while Anne threw some water in her purse/backpack thingy. Phil asked if we didn’t want to take a walking stick, so we each grabbed one from the rack. Looking up at the cliff, I thought, “This will be fun.” I didn’t see an obvious way to get up there. After we were ready, Phil explained, “The trial over there used to be the only one until the archaeologist brought a drone to film the site a couple of years ago. After studying the films, they realized that there was a second path up the ledge, so we’re going to go up this way and come down on the old trail.” I wondered what he was talking about, I couldn’t see a trail in front of us much less the one over there. While we’re at it, I don’t see any ruins up there either!

Pottery Sherds
At the door Kiva’s door is a display of pottery sherds for you to examine. You’re welcome to pick them up and look closely, but please put them back so that others can have the same opportunity.

We started walking up where the bigger rocks were kicked aside until we got to flat rocks that were reinforced and cemented in place. Ah, a trail — I get it. We’d move forward until we got winded, and Phil would conveniently stop and find something to talk about long enough that we’d catch our breath. The walking stick helped me keep my balance with a camera on one shoulder and bag on the other. Before we knew it, we reached the Grand Kiva — a large meeting hall — with basalt stone walls four-foot tall and equally wide. We listened as Phil talked about two hundred men packed in the smoke-filled ceremonial room. Then we went up more steps till we got to the 150 room apartment house were we heard stories of the ancients and how the volunteers take care of it.

Casa Malpais Pueblo
The pueblo at Casa Malpais has over one hundred fifty rooms, some of which have never been excavated. In the background is the town of Springerville at the foot of the White Mountains.

As we walked around the pueblo’s back side, Phil took us aside toward the cliff wall. “This is the lost canyon,” he said pointing at where the lead edge of basalt columns had pulled away from the original cliff. “Jeff and I have explored back there,” he said in such a way that you knew he had a genuine love of this place. Then he showed us three rams head petroglyphs carved into the rocks. “That one marks the summer solstice, the one on the right is the spring equinox and the one in the middle lines up with the cross quarter.” I would never had seen them, much less got a photograph if we were on our own.

Lost Canyon
Behind the Pueblo is a place where the leading edge of basalt columns have pulled away from the cliff. See if you can find the three rams head petroglyphs carved into the rocks.

We spent two hours on the ledge listening to Phil explain what he knew and us asking questions like a couple of six-year-old. He answered what he could and was honest about what his speculations were. “I wish I could go back 800 years to know that answer, but my best guess is … ” Before we knew it, we were back at the bus. Neither of us had fallen and I hadn’t dropped anything into a bottomless crevice, so I counted the day a success. When I mentioned this, Phil said, “Yeah, last month I went out with four and came back with two. My boss said, this is not good.” On the drive back he told us that story. If you’d like to hear it, sign up for a tour and ask Phil.

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