Betataki Cliff Dwelling is located at what is now the Navajo National Monument. Rand McNally, who kindly alerted me to its presence, won’t allow me to post a copy of a page from their atlas. However, if you want to find this somewhat out-of-the-way place, head north from Phoenix on I-17. Continue north as the highway becomes 89, then get off at the turnoff for 160, signs for Tuba City. 160 cuts northeast across Navajo country. About 75 miles past Tuba City (and just before Kayenta), you’ll see signs for the Navajo National Monument. It’s on the north side of the road. Like every good national park, there is a small museum/gift shop/information center, where you can obtain maps for walking the various trails.
The trail to Betataki is a short, easy hike: about an hour round trip to and from the overlook. You cannot approach the cliff dwelling itself, but there is a viewing platform that allows you to look across the canyon. When you do, this painting is roughly what you will see.
Here is a crude, cell-phone-picture close-up of the cliff dwelling. As you can see, it’s under the large arch on the left side of the painting.
We were there on a grey, snowy day. I didn’t plan it this way, but I love the contrast the snow and the cold grey colors of sky and vegetation make with the red-rock desert.
For those keeping track, Kachina Bridge is about one day’s drive north of Betataki. It’s in Natural Bridges National Monument in southeastern Utah. This is simply a huge culture area.
Kachina Bridge is huge natural stone bridge located in southern Utah. It has petroglyphs dibbled onto it. I was able to visit it last November, took a million pictures, fell in love. Here are some views of it from the back.
The more vibrant colors in the painting are closer to how I remember it looking real life, especially the warm glow.
Now, zooming out from the arch, let’s go down the path behind it, turn, and look back:
In the upper left corner of this painting, you can see the portion of the arch that the earlier paintings are close-ups of.
These are the works of man, this is the sum of our ambition!
You’d make a prison of my life
if you became another’s wife …”
When I was a teen, a friend called me up and said, “You HAVE to get the new Sting album. The songs sound exactly like your writing!”
Now, I did not have much disposable income and I did not often buy albums. But I managed to get it. And darned if it didn’t. Something about the songs on it matched the tenor of my imagination. This, below, is one of my favorites.
Who is this handsome fellow? He is Lord Pacal (or Pakal), denizen of the most spectacular tomb ever discovered from the Mayan civilization. This is the tomb at Palenque, the excavation of which reads like an archaeological thriller. The limestone slab covering Lord Pacal’s coffin is the location of the famous Mayan “astronaut” carving, the actual cosmological significance of which is explained here.
This watercolor of him is my own interpretation, done from a photograph of a sculpted head of him, reproduced below.
Though I did my best, in the sculpture his face is even longer, leaner, more angular, more … well … Mayan. I took a guess about skin, hair, and eye color. I also had to interpret his hairstyle and headdress, after staring for some time at the textures in the statue. As near as I can tell, his hair has been arranged to cascade upward and forward over some sort of cone-shaped crown, which I imagined to be jade, a stone the Maya valued. The hair style is apparently meant to accentuate the tall, narrow shape of the head, which was a head shaped valued by the Maya if we go based on their other art. The headband I rendered as a buff-colored woolly material, again based on its texture, though given Pacal’s status it could have been red or gold.
I spent maybe an hour or two on this watercolor, but no doubt the sculptor spent much, much longer on his or her rendering of Lord Pacal, which was probably the most important work of his or her lifetime.
You can see that it’s a dramatic face. You can see why I wanted to paint it.
In my watercolor, Lord Pacal came out looking surprisingly sensitive and gentle. In real life, he probably wasn’t, at least not by the time he reached the age of his death. He was buried with six teenaged human sacrifices, and he came from a culture that produced statues of torture victims.
But my main concern here is with the shape of his face. I am fascinated by the wildly varying types of shape that can and do work as recognizable, and indeed attractive, human faces. Lord Pacal’s face is almost a perfect diamond. It’s widest at the brows and cheekbones, narrowest at the chin and forehead.
As I went to draw this face, I was reminded that I had once drawn another face with a similar shape.
Here is a pen portrait I did from life. This man’s jaw is a touch wider than Lord Pacal’s, but the main difference between the two faces is the nose. This model has a small, rather flat nose with a very low bridge, unlike Lord Pacal’s knifelike nose with its very high bridge, extending all the way up into his forehead, which seems to have been a convention in Mayan portrait art. Whether it this was an ideal of beauty or a real-life physical feature, I don’t know. I do know that low nose bridges are not valued in the culture that the second portrait came from … though I think both kinds can be perfectly beautiful.
And my second model for a diamond-shaped face came from … Borneo. Land Bridge, baby!
The Magnificent Maya, Lost Civilizations series, by the editors of Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia, 1993.
(Much more has been discovered about the Mayan civilization since the publication of this book. In particular, Lidar and UAV aerial imaging have revealed that the Mayan cities were much larger and more numerous than was known in 1993. However, though the context for their interpretation might have changed, the artifacts documented in The Magnificent Maya have not ceased to exist, so I am using the book as an introductory source.)
[We] must ask [ourselves] how it is right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to heaven or to hell, to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology. If human culture can stand up to that, it can stand up to anything. To admit that we can retain our interest in learning under the shadow of these eternal issues, but not under the shadow of a European war, would be to admit that our ears are closed to the voice of reason and very wide open to the voice of our nerves and our mass emotions.
I think it important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective. The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal.
The insects have chosen a different line: they have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive, and presumably they have their reward. Men are different. They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on the scaffold, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature.
C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-time,” a speech given in Oxford in autumn of 1939