Tag Archive | historic site

SW National Parks Trip: Chaco Culture History

The next day on our trip was our visit to Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  Chaco Culture is located in the San Juan Basin, between Farmington, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a canyon cut by the Chaco Wash.  It is situated at an elevation between 6200 and 6400 feet.  The wash rarely contains water, only filling when a storm rolls through the area.  The area where the park is located receives an average of 9.1 inches of rain annually.  Although the temperatures fluctuate wildly, from -38 degrees in the winter to 102 in the summer, there are only 3 or 4 snow storms each year.

Evidence of human habitation goes back to about 7,000 B.C., with about 70 campsites in caves and on the canyon floor found in the area.  As with other areas in the Southwest, the first people to live here were nomadic or semi-nomadic, but the first evidence of farming dates to about 900 B.C.  As time went on and farming techniques improved, the population increased and people became less and less nomadic.  As in nearby areas, the first housing structures were pit houses, with a portion of the home dug into the ground and timbers, grasses and mud laid over top.  About 800 A.D. the first stone construction began.

Between 900 and 1150 Chaco Canyon evolved into a major cultural center for the Puebloan people; they began building Great Houses that consisted of anywhere between 200 and 700 rooms, and were up to 4 stories high, with spiritual kivas.  The Great Houses were designed and planned, rather than other types of Puebloan architecture where rooms were added on in stages without a formal architectural plan.  The final look of the Great House was known before construction even began, even though some of the Great Houses took decades, or even centuries to complete.  The lack of hearths in many Great House rooms lead researchers to believe that they were not residential complexes, but existed more as spiritual centers or places were people gathered periodically through the year to trade.

Looking out at Pueblo Bonito from above

Looking out at Pueblo Bonito from above

The boundaries of the current park contain 14 known Great Houses.  The archaeological record shows that these Great Houses were built along precise directional lines, with points lining up to mark event like equinoxes and solstices.  The fact that this complex construction was so precise indicates that the builders at Chaco Canyon had considerable knowledge of astronomy.  In fact, one pictograph at Chaco Culture NHP is thought to be a depiction of the Supernova of 1054.  I first heard about the Supernova when we did the Moab Astronomy tour.

Excavation at the sites also uncovered evidence of turquoise and obsidian manufacturing here.  Raw materials were transported here and then fashioned into beads, necklaces and pendants.  Seashells, copper bells, and the remains of macaws and parrots native to Central America also indicate that the Chacoans had an extensive trading network.  Roads were created that link the Great Houses at Chaco to over 150 other Great Houses in the area.  These are more than just foot paths, rather they are planned and engineered roads; over 400 miles of roads are known today.

Like other sites of the Puebloan people, Chaco Canyon and its Great Houses were abandoned beginning in the late 1100s; there were several severe droughts in the area that may have been the catalyst for the populations of the area to move elsewhere.  The ruins were “re-discovered” by the Western world in the 1800s; the governor of New Mexico documented them in a trip to the area in 1823.  The U.S. Army surveyed the area in 1849, but due to the remote location, Chaco Canyon was not visited with any regularity for another 50 years.  Formal archaeological work was begun in 1896 by the Museum of Natural History.  An excavation of Pueblo Bonito, the largest Great House at Chaco Canyon, yielded over 60,000 artifacts that were sent to New York.

One of the walls of Pueblo Bonito

One of the walls of Pueblo Bonito

In 1901, Richard Wetherill, the same man who led all those people up into the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, claimed a homestead of 160 acres at Chaco Canyon.  His homestead included the Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Kelt, and Pueblo del Arroyo sites.  The controversy surrounding his homestead claim was one of the major catalysts for the passage of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which paved the way for the designation of Chaco Canyon as a federally protected site.

Theodore Roosevelt designated Chaco Canyon National Monument on March 11, 1907; Richard Wetherill relinquished his homestead claim.  The area was designated on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, and on December 19, 1980, another 13,000 acres were added to the park.  At that time, it became Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.  It currently encompasses about 33,978 acres.

Its remote location limits visitation even today; in 2011 it received only 39,175 visitors.  Some of this is due to the challenging road leading to the park.  We were lucky enough to make it there on our recent trip, so in my next posts, I will tell you about our visit!

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California Marathon Road Trip: The California Delta

After our visit to the John Muir National Historic Site, we decided to take the scenic route back to Roseville.  We found CA Highway 160 and set off into the California Delta.  The reality is that much of the area just south and west of Sacramento is a delta; in its natural state the California Delta is a freshwater marsh with significant annual flooding, and a series of channels and sloughs with islands of peat.  The official name is the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta because it is located at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

Beginning in the mid 1800s enterprising Americans decided that seasonal floods didn’t really work for them, so they set out to control nature and remade the Delta into fertile farmland that now rarely floods.  The rivers are contained with high built up levees on either side, which happens to be perfect for a highway, right?  The delta also happens to deliver a significant amount of the water supply for the San Joaquin Valley and southern California through an elaborate pump system.

So you drive along an elevated road, with the slow moving river on one side and large farmhouses on the other, and you feel like you have been transported into the Louisiana bayou, only with less vegetation and no Spanish moss.  And no alligators.  I imagine that in the summer the heat is probably pretty similar to the south, but perhaps with less humidity.  But otherwise it is EXACTLY the same.  Really.  And there are probably just as many mosquitoes.

One of the many bridges spanning the river

One of the many bridges spanning the river

Along the way, we stopped in a couple of small towns that modern life seems to have largely passed by.  Isleton (population 804) announced that it had a historic point of interest, so we set off to find out what is was.  It wasn’t clearly marked, so I’m not exactly sure what we were looking for or if we found it, but what we did find was a small town with several turn of the last century buildings in various states of disrepair.

The second story of an abandoned building in Isleton – its Chinese immigrant past still visible.

The second story of an abandoned building in Isleton – its Chinese immigrant past still visible.

And we found a woman who seemed to be on drugs, who proceeded to follow us around and stop where we stopped, and continue when we did, peeking into cars along the way.  So, due to the fact that this woman was creeping Jon out, we didn’t hang around long in Isleton.  Note: there were an awful lot of cars parked along the main street for as dead as the town appeared to be.  We could only find a handful of businesses that were actually open (or in business for that matter); certainly not enough to justify the number of cars that were parked.  We also found that stereotypical car covered with cats – so we took a photo of that too.

A couple of the more maintained buildings in downtown Isleton, California

A couple of the more maintained buildings in downtown Isleton, California

Cats on Cars

Cats on Cars

Our next stop on the Delta was in the historic town of Locke.  Locke was founded in 1915 by Chinese immigrants who were prevented from living in the nearby communities with whites.  This was once a thriving town with a Chinese school, traditional Chinese doctors, and restaurants and shops catering to the Chinese population.  You can see what it once was by the Chinese writing remaining on some of the buildings.  Technically, Locke isn’t a town, but an unincorporated area, but the historic buildings and its connection as a Chinese immigrant community earned it a designation as a National Historic Landmark District.

A row of historic buildings in Locke, California

A row of historic buildings in Locke, California

Someone (I cannot remember who) had told me that Locke was a quaint little historic town with art galleries and shops.  What we found wasn’t quite what I would describe as quaint – although it was certainly trying.  There were only a few shops open – a couple of art galleries and a consignment shop.  And a tiny little museum on the history of the Chinese in the area.  And wow, historic is an understatement!

Locke has as many abandoned buildings as it does occupied ones – and some of them seem dangerously close to falling down.  I would not want to be in Locke when the next earthquake hits California!  The upside was that there weren’t any tweakers in Locke, and it did give me the opportunity to take some interesting photos of the old, run-down buildings.  Other than that though, it wasn’t much of a destination – I was glad we had just chanced upon it rather than heading out there with a plan to spend awhile…

One of the not so well maintained buildings in Locke

One of the not so well maintained buildings in Locke

Our cruise of the California Delta was certainly interesting and beautiful, giving me an opportunity to see something new in California.  Jon lived in Sacramento for a few years and never knew this was right outside of the city!  This is definitely not a world of strip malls and pavement.  And at the end of our delta tour we happened upon a converted beet sugar mill – I will post about that next!

Have you ever visited the California Delta?  What did you think?

Help Save the Cooper-Molera Adobe

This spring I posted about my California Road Trip and our visit to the Cooper-Molera Adobe in Monterey, California.  You can read about it here.  This adobe home was built in 1823, and has stood the test of time for almost 200 years.  It is currently owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who leases it to the California Park System to operate.  It is a beautiful structure that is part of the Monterey State Historic Park, which consists of 55 buildings all over town.

Well at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

Well at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

The California Park System has been plagued by financial difficulties over the last several years and is now telling the National Trust that it cannot continue to upkeep or operate a site that they do not own.  As a result, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is considering a proposal by a developer to turn the site into shops and restaurants.  The developer says they intend to maintain the historic integrity of the structures, but as I’m sure you know, it wouldn’t be possible to add commercial kitchens and office spaces without fundamentally changing the structure and damaging the historic integrity of the building.  And once a site is gone, we can never get it back…

Historic Barn at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

Historic Barn at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

If this tugs at your heartstrings the way that it does mine, here’s a website with more information.  Send a letter, get involved, do what you can to help ensure future generations are able to visit historic sites.

California Road Trip: The Long Road Home

Sadly, any good vacation must come to an end, and we were at the end of our California Road Trip.  We loved the scenery, we loved the things we saw and experienced, and I think we managed to pack a lot into it!  The summary of what we did:

Other notable stats include:

  • seven different hotels
  • 2,492 miles driven
  • two times driving around the same blocks in San Francisco while trying to find the parking garage
  • one fight about the San Francisco traffic
  • one killer bike fell off a car in front of us on the freeway
  • ten bottles of wine made it home with us (I thought that showed a lot of restraint!)
  • 2,476,983 bugs lost their lives on our windshield, grille and mirrors
  • Six – the number of times I vomited, in two different towns
Mount Shasta From the Car Window

Mount Shasta From the Car Window

Jon and I had a fabulous time, and we managed to make the long, boring drive home from Sacramento in one long, boring, exhausting, marathon of a day.  The drive without any stops is about 11 hours – we only stopped for gas, food and bathroom breaks.  We did run into heavy traffic in all the usual places – Tacoma, Seattle and Everett (a complete stop in Everett due to a car accident) – but otherwise it was smooth sailing the whole way.  We made it in about 13 hours.  The non-stop drive made for some sore, stiff bodies the next day, but thankfully we had a day to do some laundry and get some rest before we had to go back to work!  And Oliver and Oscar were so happy to see us!

I Don't Condone This - But This Guy Did Look Like He Was Enjoying Himself!

I Don’t Condone This – But This Guy Did Look Like He Was Enjoying Himself!

If you want to go back and read from the beginning of the trip – of course you do!  I can’t wait for the next trip – for now we are saving and planning until we can make it happen!

California Road Trip: Mission San Carlos de Borroméo de Río Carmelo

The next day was our last day in Monterey.  We made our way over to the Mission San Carlos de Borroméo de Río Carmelo (the Carmel Mission).  There are 21 missions in California, and at some point I’m going to visit all 21 of them.  Before this trip, I’ve been to four: Mission San Buenaventura (Ventura), Mission Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara), Mission San Francisco Solano (Sonoma), and Mission Santa Ines (Solvang); plus one in Tucson, Arizona – now I added a fifth to the list!

The Carmel Mission was founded in 1770 – by Junípero Serra – the first site of the mission was in the town of Monterey.  However, due to poor soil and some power struggles with the Presidio of Monterey, the mission was moved to its present location a year later.  Junípero Serra founded nine of the 21 missions in California, with this one being the second (after San Diego).  This was also his favorite – where he established his headquarters.

Mission San Carlos de Borroméo de Río Carmelo - Founded 1770 - This Church Built 1794

Mission San Carlos de Borroméo de Río Carmelo – Founded 1770 – This Church Built 1794

The first church and dwellings were made of wood, with the adobe structures built later.  The first years were hard and they relied on the Indians for supplies.  But eventually, they had a steady supply of labor – although it is questionable whether their methods of getting the Indians to stick around were very humane.  At the height of the mission, there were 927 Indians working and living at the mission.  Junípero Serra came and went, founding other missions along the way, and baptizing and confirming Indians throughout the region (over 4,000 Indians were baptized at Carmel alone).  Serra died at the age of 71 (that’s a long life as an adventurer out in the wilderness!) at the Carmel Mission and at his request, was buried beneath the main altar of the church.

The present church was constructed in 1794 on the site of the original church (Serra is still buried in front of the altar).  The curved walls were covered with a lime plaster made from burnt sea shells, and the floor was made from tile.  The tower is a Moorish design and has nine bells.  It is the only one of the California Missions that has its original bell tower dome.

The Main Altar at the Carmel Mission

The Main Altar at the Carmel Mission

In 1834, the Indian population had dwindled, and the Mission was secularized, which means that it became a conventional parish church.  The mission lands were transferred to Hispanic settlers and gradually the church fell into ruin.  When the United States took control of California, they also took control of all of the missions, but the property was returned to the Catholic Church in 1859 – the church was already in ruins by this time.  Restoration was begun in 1884, by putting a new roof on the Mission.  Eventually restoration was completed and you have the grand structure you see today.

This is Believed to be the First Confessional at the Mission - Constructed from an 18th Century Packing Crate

This is Believed to be the First Confessional at the Mission – Constructed from an 18th Century Packing Crate

In 1987, Pope Jean Paul II visited the Mission San Carlos de Borroméo de Río Carmelo, and prayed inside the Church.  In 1988 Serra was beatified by Jean Paul II.  Beatification is the third of four steps in the canonization process, which is the process to sainthood.  During the process, his treatment of the Indians was debated – at this point Serra has not gone through the last step to sainthood, but I have no idea if that is a result of his treatment of the Indians.  The church today remains an active parish church with a school for children aged kindergarten to 8th grade.

The interior of the church is beautiful, and we took a while to just take it all in.  There is a display before you enter the church of the vestments that Serra wore during his lifetime; the garments are in amazing condition and the color and detail are vivid and intricate.  There is also an icon of the Virgin Mary in the church that is over 300 years old.  The Mission also has a museum showing the rooms that the priests lived in, the mission library and the books it contained, and information about how life was lived on a mission property.  It is a self-guided tour, so you can take as much time as you would like exploring the different rooms and exhibits.

Virgin Mary Icon - This is Where Jean Paul II Prayed

Virgin Mary Icon – This is Where Jean Paul II Prayed

A Couple of the Vestments that Serra Wore

A Couple of the Vestments that Serra Wore

The mission is designated as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, but the church is maintained entirely by private funds.  It is well worth the visit to see a mission that is almost 250 years old!