Traveling through the open windows of time

November 10, 2010
 

Since completing the PAC Tour Grand Canyon bicycle trip, I have reshaped the columns first posted on KeithWatkinsHistorian into a more complete travel narrative. It includes a new introduction and material that is not in the original postings. The new introduction and a link to the full essay follow. I hope that you enjoy the read.

The Colorado Plateau is a high, dry, desolate land, with a scattered population that attracts vast numbers of sightseers and scientists year after year. The best known attraction, of course, is the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River—a 275-mile long breach in the earth, which from rim to river is more than 5,000 feet deep. From viewpoints along both rims, the canyon displays layer upon layer of rock—as many as forty discernable bands.

Although there are many tones and hues, the dominant color in this iron-oxide world is red. Tourists revel in the rich tapestry of colors and shapes, but geologists exult in the record these layers give of the geological processes that created this plateau, its mountains, and rivers.

Two hundred seventy five miles east of Grand Canyon Village, by roads winding through the Navajo and Hopi Reservations, a second canyon also attracts sightseers and scientists. In comparison with its grander neighbor, Canyon de Chelly is a modest place. Instead of multiple layers of granite and sandstone, it features layers of human habitation, beginning with a hunter-gatherer culture, which anthropologists date from 2500 to 200 BCE.

Then come the Basketmaker culture, the Ancestral Puebloan, the Hopi, and the Navajo. From charred remains of campfires and dwellings, long preserved evidences of ancient agriculture and hunting, complex dwellings high on cliff walls, designs on rock walls, and the stories remembered by the people, a 4,000-year record of human life is on display for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

A phrase used by the National Park Service in a brochure describing Canyon de Chelly can accurately be applied to both of these remarkable gashes in the Colorado Plateau. They are “open windows” into the history of the people who have lived since ancient times and into the even more ancient land that has sustained them.

There was a time when the only way to travel through this land was by walking. When horses came with the Spanish conquistadors, transportation processes and many aspects of cultural interaction were transformed. With railroads and then automobiles ever-greater speed and ever-larger multitudes of visitors came to this high plateau. Some will declare, however, that the best way of all—faster and easier than on foot or horseback, slower and more satisfying than by train or car—is by bicycle. That’s what this essay describes: a bicycle journey through the open windows of time.

To read the rest of this travel narrative, click here:  Open Windows of Time.


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