Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Family vacation notes 

Our first couple of days in Durango have involved bursts of action, punctuated by family time and seemingly endless transactions costs, these last including extensive schlepping around to no obvious purpose, numerous trips to the grocery store, and a very long session at “Hassle Free Sports” to rent ski equipment. While I like Hassle Free Sports and respect it as a Durango institution of some standing, I stand by my loudly declared assertion that when it comes to renting ski equipment, there is no such thing as “hassle free.”

On Monday, though, we deposited the children with their aunt and cousins and drove to Mesa Verde National Park, which is not far from here. Mesa Verde is the home of more than 600 Ancestral Puebloan ruins, many of which are lodged into the sides of cliffs and thereby preserved under the shelter of the overhanging rock. We took a guided tour of Spruce Tree House, and otherwise drove around to various points with good views of Cliff Palace, the Sun Temple, and other famous ruins. These archeological sites are incredibly cool, and should be on everybody’s list of North American places to visit.

From the little I could pick up on the tour and in the museum, the Ancestral Puebloan civilization occupied the Mesa Verde area for about 1000 years, but only occupied the cliff dwellings that have been so well-preserved for about a century, roughly 700 years ago. There is some debate among scholars as to the reasons that the Ancestral Puebloans abandoned the cliff dwellings after such a short period, but the theory adopted by the National Park Service rangers (the main source of my knowledge on the topic) was that there was a 25 year drought in the 13th century that eventually forced them to pack up and move on.

I always wonder about these mass migrations and other civilization-spanning decisions. What was the bureaucratic dynamic? Did they disagree about it? If so, who made the call to leave? Who suffered the most when they all packed up and left? For example, the Sun Temple is a large, uncompleted project of undetermined purpose (though archeologists, in naming it the “Sun Temple,” are obviously speculating that it was intended for ceremonial purposes). I figure that any group undertaking as ambitious as the Sun Temple had to have a project manager, or maybe several, who were very wrapped up in its construction over many years. Did the Sun Temple project manager go completely bananas when the chief made his decision to abandon the cliff dwellings? Or was the whole thing just hashed out in some friendly Puebloan politburo designed to resolve these kinds of differences in opinion? I’m guessing that they had a huge argument, and probably came to blows. After all, we apparently no longer refer to these people as the “Anasazi,” since it means something like “eternal enemies” in Hopi. I bet they had to kill the guy, he was so pissed off.

So whenever you work really hard on something that your thoughtless boss or uncaring client nullifies with one sweeping decision, think of the poor Sun Temple project manager.


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