The ruins have a paved parking lot. There were three cars when I arrived in the late afternoon. A young couple repacked their jeep as a man beside a van talked to them. I walked to the entrance signboard, where another man stood reading. I read enough over his shoulder to understand that the trail did not go to the ruins—I assumed it went to an overlook. The short trail curved among the pinyon pines and junipers, in the shade of which there were benches, then crossed open sandstone to a fenced overlook at the rim of the canyon. The wind gusted across the sandstone, making me cool in my anorak.
The splatter of a water trickle carried across the canyon. It came from a single-lashed eye: at its end the rim of the white stone canyon curved like an eyebrow above a deep socket, where there was a large ruin. All one could see from the overlook were fragments of walls and a network of foundations. Among the other alcoves near the end of the canyon, I saw that three others also held ruins, although none of the others were as complex as the one at the end.
I walked back to the parking lot and down toward the canyon, where its walls were low. There was a rudimentary trail in a gully to the wash bottom, which looked swampy. The rushes of the bottom were flattened; all pointed downstream. There had recently been a large volume of water moving quickly, forcefully through this canyon—something much more than the trickle that I heard falling over its head eye. Rather than walk up the bottom, with its thatch and fallen branches, as well as pools and streams of water, I crossed it and climbed the opposite sand bank, still following a rudimentary trail. I wound across a terrace thick with sagebrush and went upward into scrub oak and then mountain mahogeny. The maneuvering was not easy—I pushed through and dodged the stiff branches, which at least were not yet in leaf, providing me sight lines to pick my way. The margins of the sandy terrace had subsided badly—I reached a cross-cutting gully, where I stepped and slid down its sandy sides and then climbed back up the opposite side. Soon there was another deep gully, but here I followed its edge upward, passing behind the junipers that continued to stabilize its upper end, and then clambered over small boulders to a sandstone ledge, along which I backtracked to the first alcove. Here was a two-room dwelling that had beautiful masonry. The dwelling’s walls were made of large flat rocks, each only a few inches thick, placed horizontally, giving the wall a thickness of about eight inches, but there were also layers of small stones that gave the wall the appearance of having decorative threads. The outer surfaces of all of the stones were flush in the same plane and smoothly mortared. In one of the rooms, the floor and alcove ceiling were fire scarred, darkened by the smudge of smoke.
I tried to continue up canyon along the ledge that extended from the first alcove, but it dropped away to sheer cliff; I backtracked, going down the boulders where I had come up, back down to the terrace of scrub oak and mountain mahogany. At the next gully, I wasn’t sure that I could go any further. There was cliff above me, and I couldn’t see any access spots on the terrace across the gully, although I again decided that the way up could be at the head of the gully. I checked the time; it was after 5.00 p.m., giving me an hour of reasonable light.
The sandstone beyond the vegetation of the sand terrace had a steep pitch, but it was lined by sturdy junipers. I stepped behind them across the sandstone slope to an alcove. No ruins. I followed a ledge forward then up slightly to another alcove, but again there were no ruins, only a fire-smudged ceiling. I climbed back down to the ledge and took it up canyon, moving slowly, watching the rock facets for petroglyphs and pictographs. The stone wall curved and ahead I saw a huge vertical crack at a sharp corner in the canyon. The crack extended from the vertical wall horizontally across my ledge, which had widened to about twelve feet in width, and then down to the bottom of the wash. The corner formed an angle of about 40 degrees. Across the crack, which was open, the ledge was narrower, about two feet wide. At least it was flat, I thought, although the surface was cobbles. This was a point of decision and, actually, not the first. I’m clumsy and scared of heights and vertical exposures—even photographs of plunges give me sweaty palms.
I took the ledge. Watch your steps, I told myself. The ledge wasn’t bad and around a corner it widened to a broader terrace, although this comfort didn’t last long. The terrace ended in a shoulder, a round edge with nothing ahead but space. Just short of the lip, behind a juniper, were two rocks and above them the slope wasn’t too bad. I stepped behind the juniper, around the first stone, and onto the second, where I leaned to the sandstone and took two steps up to the next ledge. Here I climbed to another alcove—again, there were no ruins although there were fire marks on the ceiling. I walked across the edge of the alcove to go down the other side, but it was too exposed. I went back to the side where I came up, then stopped to consider my options. I’m cautious—I stay well within my safety limits—partly because it can be easy to go up or forward to places from which I would not be able to come back. Fortunately, I’m easily satisfied by the thrills of books, which I can enjoy in comfortable, safe chairs—I don’t need foolish challenges on cliffs, where my high, wobbly center of gravity sends me off kilter.
The big alcove with its large ruin lay just ahead. The sandstone slope ahead of me was spanned by a couple of small ridges, each a lip an inch or two wide—enough to give a boot extra purchase. I stepped out, carefully, and walked across, until, nearing the far side, my rock lip ended, I stepped down to the next lower lip, and stepped forward, then recognized the steepness of the approaching downward slope—this was unwelcome, and I began quickly the decision-making about how to go back, for getting turned around, when I saw the steps that had been chiseled into the stone. Chiseled, of course, would be the wrong word for what someone did some 800 years ago with a stone tool. I took the steps to a broad ledge where my comfort returned. The nearest alcove had a small ruin in it, but it was getting late so I followed the ledge around to the large ruin.
The big alcove had a fringe of grass where clumps of the wooly loco Astragalus mollissimus grew as if in a garden, although at the end of this gray afternoon their flowers were shadowy, appearing a monotonous dull purple. There were two round kivas at the front of the ruin. Kivas first appear in ruins dated to about 1300 years ago—somewhat before the time to which this ruin has been dated. The historical Hopi, who are among the descendants of the ancient people who lived in the cliff dwellings of the Colorado Plateau, used kivas as places where men gathered and sacred ceremonies were performed. This ruin had four kivas—three round, but one with a square foundation, which is the form found further south in Arizona but is untypical of this part of the Colorado Plateau. The number of kivas made me curious about the number of people who must have lived in these alcoves at the end of the canyon. Should the number of kivas tell us something of the diversity of the group—its range of clans or other unions? There were numerous foundations of what could have been dwellings, some were high enough to indicate possibly two storeys. I guessed that 30 people might have lived in these tight quarters. I didn’t stay long—didn’t dream myself into the life of the alcove; the light was leaving, and I didn’t want to be caught on the ledges in the dark. I began walking back, crossing the moist rocks, where water dripping from the canyon rim above splattered, and I slipped.