Monday, March 19, 2007

SW+1YR-SEVEN: Alpha Betatakin

Out of Tuba City, we took 160 East through the juniper and sage of Navajoland, until we detoured for the Navajo National Monument to take a look at Betatakin. Three of the best-preserved Anasazi ruins are located in the park. But in March, none is accessible by hiking, and only one is visible from the southern rim of Tsegi canyon: Betatakin. There’s a short trail that descends from the Park Headquarters, over red sandstone, between junipers, until one comes to the rim, where a metal railing prevents a precipitous genuflection before the wonders of Betatakin.

Betatakin, Betatakin, Betatakin. What is there to say about your ruins. Here’s just about everything I know about the Anasazi who dwelled here so long ago. First, their name, as we have come to know it is actually a Navajo word meaning ‘ancient enemies’. For the Navajo are actually newcomers to the southwest, hailing originally from the wilds of Canada. And these peoples who inhabited these caves are not their ancestors at all.

It’s been said that the Anasazi disappeared, but the Hopi would tell you differently. For they’re still here, and they are the descendants of these people, as are the various Pueblo tribes of Arizona and New Mexico. But if the Anasazi didn’t actually disappear, their empire did. Back in the beginnings of what we call the second millennium, the Anasazi had built a magnificent nation centered around Chaco Canyon.

This was long before America’s so-called discovery. And across Tsegi Canyon is a reminder of its diaspora towards this present-day future. We looked at its walls and windows and wondered about the stories we were told. These adobe villages were abandoned long before the landing at Plymouth Rock. Here before our eyes was the reminder of America’s own ruined empire, not some Roman legend, but Southwestern history.

And something made me think that here resides the heart of North America, that one can’t begin to come to grips with all the universe until you really come to grips with lands we somehow call our own, a vanity of vanities of course. If dust is to dust, then we are the land’s, like that adobe, that ruin, Betatakin.

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