NW Visits Mesa Verde

I’ll give you serious Mesa Verde pictures, plus a bit more commentary, next week. But here is NW on her visit there …

This is the edge of Mesa Verde. (As you can see, NW is nearly overwhelmed by it.) You approach it from the north, where impressive cliffs like this loom over you. The road climbs, and then Mesa Verde itself is a vast elevated area with multiple smaller mesas and canyons where you find archaeological sites. Some of them are built along cliffs in the canyons, others are up on top of the mesa(s).

The whole region is studded with forests of burned trees. As we drove south from the entrance towards Wetherill Mesa (which is in the Southwest corner of the park), periodically we would see signs that said what year the fire in question happened. Some of these fires happened 10, 20, or 30 years ago. The climate is so dry that the burned trees are still standing and look fresh.

Here is the path created for tourists that leads down to Step House, which is a small cliff dwelling. As you can see, it’s leading down into a canyon.

The path down to Step House leads right past exposed sandstone cliffs like this one. Not surprisingly, rock shops are a really big deal all throughout the Four Corners region.

Step House, besides the remains of stone walls (cool!) also has one kiva and a few other, “proto-kivas,” like this one. A kiva is a round underground room. Modern pueblo Indians use kivas for ceremonies, so we assume that is how they were used by their ancestors at Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, and other sites. This one is called a proto-kiva because it’s smaller. The ranger, who was standing there, told me the Step House was settled around 600 AD, which is when the proto-kivas were built. Then there was a gap of a few hundred years, and it was settled again around 1200 AD, when the larger kiva was built. Apparently it was settled by the same people, or at least by people who made the same kind of pots. (But remember the archaeological caveat, “Pots are not people.”) The burned wood is still there from about a thousand years ago! This dry climate is fantastic for archaeology!

Here is a shot looking down into the bigger kiva, though NW did not photobomb this one.

But she did pose on this ladder, which is a re-constructed one leading up into the house part of the pueblo.

Somewhere in the Step House complex, NW found these petroglyphs. She is resting her club in a satisfied manner as though she just completed these herself. She did not, though. But they were obviously made by people, and the people were obviously kindred spirits in their desire to incise symbols, some of which look an awful lot like the Ice Age writing that NW herself once used.

Quote: The Kindest of Lies

We waltzed slowly around the room, between the rows of booths, past the pool table and the chairs, never hitting anything. I guess the loser had spent so much time in that bar that he knew where everything was. He had the gift of all the best dancers: he led you so that you felt as though there was no leading or following involved … The scar tissue above his empty white eyes was furrowed with concentration, and he smelled of sweat and gin.

“Are you beautiful?” the loser whispered toward the end of the song.

I lied a little. “Yes,” I said. “Very.”

The loser smiled to himself and closed his sightless eyes.

Fulton County Blues, by Ruth Birmingham, p. 52

The John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon

You may remember, a few weeks ago, seeing a picture of Neanderthal Woman standing in front of these green clay layers.

N.W., my kids, and I encountered this site as we were driving through central Oregon. Actually, we had to go a bit out of our way to get to it.

Look at that! We’d been driving over fossil beds all day, ever since we crossed the border!

At one time, this whole area was a semi-tropical rainforest. Then, the whole thing was buried in a massive flow of mud. Supposedly, this happened in stages, starting about 50 million years ago, but let’s not quibble about exactly when. The point is, this forest is now preserved. It’s kind of sad to look up at those interesting-looking hills and imagine all the animal skeletons there, smooshed and squished and smothered in mud, just waiting to be dug out.

There is a small museum at the site, the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, where we took refuge from the heat. Here is my son drawing an ancient horse skull.

The forest primeval, reconstructed here, left a lot of petrified wood, like this chunk of sycamore …

And Oregon’s state fossil, the Metasequoia, which was later discovered to be alive and well in China.

There were also all kinds of interesting and bizarre ancient mammals, such as tiny early horses, giant rodents, and the “bear-dog” (which, as far as I can tell, was basically a wolverine). The crown jewel of the John Day mammal fossils, however, has to be the entelodont.

It is described as a carnivorous pig/hippo, six feet high at the shoulder. Not a creature you want to mess with. An artist’s speculative illustration showed one devouring a small triceratops.

The entelodont is not perfectly understood, however. As this display points out, nobody knows exactly what these strange bone flages on either side of its head were used for. Consequently, I suppose, we also don’t really know what it looked like.

Speaking of puzzling body parts, have you ever heard of a “horned rodent”?

Even the squirrels were scarier back then!

All the Aliens on Netflix

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Behold, mini-reviews!

Aerials: An alien invasion plot set in Dubai. It’s mostly about how people react when they are forced to hide out inside their houses, not knowing what is going to happen. (They mostly do nothing and argue a lot.) I enjoyed it for the glimpse of Dubai itself: the beautiful inside of the couple’s apartment, and how the main character relates to his wife versus to his men friends in the tea shop. Interestingly, the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) is featured in this movie. The alien spacecraft hovers directly above it, and the title would seem to imply that they showed up there because they took it for a huge antenna. But this point is never developed. It’s more a character study about the people.

Ancient Aliens: A nothingburger. The worst “documentary” I have ever seen.

The Darkest Hour: Two friends who arrive in Moscow to check out the club scene find their trip interrupted by aliens. Great views of Moscow in the summertime, and for once, a really creative kind of alien that is not organic.

Revolt: An American soldier and a French aid worker deal with an alien invasion in Kenya. Really disappointing. I want to see the actual aliens, not just their machines.

Rim of the World: I watched this a few years ago, so I don’t remember it very well, but I remember it being a good apocalyptic film with teenaged protagonists and satisfyingly horrible aliens.

Battle: Los Angeles: O.K. Kind of meh. Running around and getting killed. It’s a little bit better than Revolt, but the same type of thing.

The Fourth Kind: Supposedly, these are aliens, but they are obviously actually demons.

Stargate (the original movie, not the series): I will never not love Stargate. The nerdy linguist hero, the spaceship that fits down over the pyramid …bliss.