Saturday, December 18, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 15 - Part 2

The road ahead dropped gradually into a lateral, dry wash and Jenny pumped the brakes to slow the Ford down. The dust cloud following the truck caught up to her and blew past like a smoky storm. Jenny quickly rolled up her window and steered around several large boulders jutting out from the bottom of the drainage. She down-shifted as the truck slowly climbed up the far side of the wash.

Parrot Rock looked like nothing more than a gargantuan pile of oxblood-colored boulders. Many of them had flat smooth faces, and a closer inspection showed the petroglyph scratching and pictograph paintings of the Anasazi artists. Parrot Rock was a magnificent collection of prehistoric rock art, deriving its curious name from the many figures depicting jungle birds from Latin America. Macaw feathers had been unearthed at some of the excavated sites in the area, and the archaeologists had concluded that the Anasazi had established trade routes at least as far south as the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico.

Jenny hadn’t planned on stopping at Parrot Rock, but when she looked over at the precariously-balanced rocks, she saw a new addition that made her brake as if a small child had just darted in front of the truck. She rolled down the window and stared indignantly at the word METALLICA, which had been spray-painted in giant red letters across one of the nicer panels in the group.

Vandalism of cultural antiquities came in many shades and colors, but the destruction of rock art panels was probably the most common form of destruction. Many people just could not control themselves when they saw what appeared to be prehistoric graffiti. They generally used a small rock to scratch alongside the rapidly deteriorating drawings of the Anasazi. Such mindless disregard for past culture was enough to tear at Jenny’s heart, but after years of watching every rock art site she knew of get trashed in this way, she realized the protection of these sacred places was impossible.

Jenny climbed out of her pickup and walked over to the boulder slide. This particular rock art site represented several different prehistoric time periods.

The original Archaic drawings were petroglyphs, carved into the surface of the stone slab with a sharp tool, like a hammer stone. These early Anasazi artists had evidently been intrigued by concentric circle patterns; most of their pictures were comprised of these swirling symbols, the meaning of which was lost. They had also pecked in drawings of bighorn sheep and deer, a reference to the excellent hunting. There were countless theories regarding the petroglyph rock art, but most was pure speculation at best.

The next generation of Anasazi to draw were Pueblo Indians, circa 1000 A.D. They preferred to paint their symbols on the rock, using red pigment that was made from crushing locally-mined hematite into dust; to give the paint its liquid consistency, they added their own urine and animal blood to the mixture. Dark red figures of people, gods, clouds, the sun, trees, and animals like frogs and parrots – whatever caught their fancy – ended up on the stone paintings.

After the Anasazi vanished, the occasional Paiute or Navajo had contributed to the panels as they passed through the valley. Their drawings were often done in charcoal and usually depicted people riding horses, undoubtedly the Spanish explorers of the late 1700s

The Mormons who settled the area in the 1860s weren’t much for drawing clever pictures, but chose instead to simply write their names and the date of their passage, and leave it at that. The children of these brave pioneers followed their parents’ lead and used the panel as a kind of log book while traveling the Honeymoon Trail, which led couples to the Mormon temple at St. George, Utah where they could be officially married.

Parrot Rock represented over two thousand years of human dreams.

With the twentieth century came the vandals. The modern Mormons merely signed their names across the panels. White trash losers just liked to take out their knives and try to deface what was already there. But this latest entry was perhaps the saddest type of all, at least as far as Jenny was concerned. The person who had recently spray-painted this site had been a young Indian boy, and it wasn’t the first time that teenage Navajos and Paiutes had desecrated this prehistoric shrine. METALLICA joined an already long list of heavy-metal bands: GUNS’N’ROSES, POISON, WHITE SNAKE, BON JOVI, KISS, AEROSMITH and DEF LEPPARD. Long-haired musical head-pounders were the newest gods of Northern Arizona’s Indian braves, who were drawn more to the outlandish costumes of the rockers than the ear-splitting music. To paint the name of a rebellious rock band on a 2,000 year old rock art panel was an act of open defiance.

Jenny closed her eyes and sighed. It was bad enough that white people thought so little of the ancient Indian art work, but for other Indians to show the same sort of callous indifference was indeed disheartening. But there was nothing Jenny Hatch could do other than catalogue the damage and move on.

Jenny looked down at her watch. It was already three-fifteen; the day was almost shot. Getting packed for this camping trip had taken a lot longer than she expected and she would have to push it if she was going to get any survey work done before the sun went down. The murder in Jumpup Canyon had the Forest Service running around in circles. Because it was connected to pothunting, she had been drawn into the crisis; everyone had consulted her opinion on the matter. The only way she had finally been able to escape the office was to print out a brief synopsis of the case as it applied to cultural resources and post the message on the bulletin board outside her office door.

Jenny pulled a note pad from her jacket pocket and wrote down a short description of the vandalism to the rock art panel. She felt numb from the strain of this crazy day, and would be glad when it was over.

The only route up on to the Paria Plateau was via the winding Buffalo Spring Road. Before turning left on to the sandy trail, she stopped to lock the front wheels into 4-wheel drive. Jenny felt a tinge of excitement as she gazed toward her project area atop the towering Navajo sandstone cliffs. Working in the field was the best part of this job, and for an archaeologist, surveying on the Paria Plateau was like playing in a candy store. For the next two days she would be alone on the plateau, where it was hard to walk anywhere and not encounter some Anasazi relic.

Jenny suddenly remembered that she was supposed to meet Linda Joyce by dusk. In the rush of getting out to the Paria, she had forgotten all about their appointment. She had driven right by the pinnacled hills of Bighorn Buttes and had not noticed Linda’s yellow truck. But that didn’t mean the bird watcher wasn’t there; she could have just missed her in the jumble of rock piles. Jenny would get in a couple of hours of survey work on the Paria, and then she would drive back down to the Buttes for dinner.

Linda had seemed nice – a little self-absorbed perhaps – but she had been through a terrible experience and was probably just gun-shy. Some soothing talk around a roaring camp fire and a few sips off the bottle of peach brandy Jenny had stowed away in her backpack, and Linda would be good as new.

Jenny smiled as she imagined the evening ahead. Camping with Linda would be fun. There were a ton of questions that Jenny wanted to ask the wildlife biologist about her work with predatory birds; but most of all, she wanted to know about the pothunting killer.

Looking up at the sky, Jenny noticed a golden eagle circling lazily on the thermals rising from the valley floor. The eagle never flapped its wings as it glided silently over the plateau like the shadow of death. How could you tell when an eagle was hunting and when it was just cruising? Now there was a good question for Linda.

Jenny laughed deeply. She was going to learn so much in the next few days.

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