We are wildlife photographers but we are interested in the world at large and have, over time, had that interest manifest itself in the desire to learn more about and photograph Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) ruins and rock art. It has been through this quest that we have come to a profound realization of just how populated our country was. Imagine this….although it is still debated, there were an estimated 18 – 20 million Native Americans living north of Mexico in the United States when many of our European ancestors first set foot on our shores.
The Colorado Plateau covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado and is an area of amazing landscapes as well as thousands of “cliff dwellings” and “Indian ruins.” Some of these sites are well-known and certainly worth visiting, Mesa Verde in Colorado, Chaco in New Mexico, Wupatki in Arizona come to mind. We have come to learn there are a considerable number of lesser known areas that are truly hidden gems but require some research and hiking (sometimes a lot of hiking) to experience.
So far the past few trips have taken us from Hovenweep National Monument on the Utah – Colorado border (easily accessed) to Comb Ridge, Cedar Mesa, San Rafael Swell, and Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, all in Utah. Utah is the home of not only some of the most scenic National Parks and Monuments in the country but also contains a stunning number of canyons with Ancestral Puebloan sites.
Of course getting off the beaten track can take some doing but is part of the adventure and will unquestionably be worth the trouble. A lifetime could be spent exploring the canyons and mesas and most of it doesn’t have a paved highway for access.
Please remember that the ruins you may visit are hundreds of years old and are fragile. The seemingly simple act of entering a ruin could destroy it. While we sometimes find pottery shards and even ancient corn cobs at some locations these remains are slowly disappearing as some people feel the need to possess a reminder of their visit or carry away something that may be a kind of talisman only to discover that once removed it loses that bit of magic and is consigned to catching dust on a shelf. This is destructive and is, in fact, illegal. Leaving these things as you find them will enhance the next visitors experience.
You know the mantra: leave only foot prints, take only photographs.
“The standing ruins have metamorphosed into standing rocks. From the sun-scorched earth they were taken, to the same soil they return. The cool breezes which run through them are the voice and spirit of Anasazi.” Terry Tempest Williams