FIRE WALK ON THE PAJARITO

I sip coffee made from strong black beans blended with roast pinyon nuts as I write these words.  I’ve lit a small rectangle of juniper incense.  Tish Hinajosa’s ‘Aquela Noche’ croons from the CD player.[i]  A sprawl of relevant maps and books covers the floor around me.  Both the phone and answering machine are turned off; I want nothing to disturb my reverie.  Immersed in the tastes, textures, aromas and memories recalling my trips to Bandelier National Monument, I vividly recreate my travels through time and space in search of the stories written on the Pajarito landscape by fire, in particular the account of what had become of Yapashi Ruins and Stone Lions.  Once more I stood at the portal of a Bandelier trailhead, ready for adventure into a place of enchantment and mystery, disturbance and rejuvenation

As I lift my pack to my shoulders and start my walk, the sun has yet to show itself over the immense canyon walls in the deep crevice carved by Frijoles Creek.  Though it is cool in the shadows, I am glad.  That means both time and temperature remain in my favor as I begin my climb up the trail towards Frijolito ruins.  Halfway up the steep trail to the ruins, I pass an older couple planning to hike down towards the Rio Grande after checking out Frijolito.  We talk briefly, pausing to admire the view across to the abandoned village of Tyuonyi and the cliff-side caves and ruins further up Frijoles Canyon.  The Pajarito, though settled from the late 1100s on and used for even longer as a seasonal hunting and gathering land, experienced an unprecedented building boom towards the end of the 1200s that saw many of the largest pueblos constructed that visitors see today at Bandelier.[ii]  In October of 1880, Adolph Bandelier stood at the brink of Frijoles Canyon.  With his first glimpse at the remains of the Tyuonyi community house and the series of cave dwellings strung along the cliff, he saw not only the ancient past but his own future beckoning to him.  That night he wrote in his journal of “the grandest thing I ever saw.”[iii]

This morning I gaze from the overlook at the ancient village across the canyon with Frijolito Ruins, a 1400’s Ancestral Pueblan village on the south rim at my feet.  Unlike the painstakingly restored stonework of Tyuonyi in the basin, Frijolito erodes untended, becoming slowly imperceptible to those passing.[iv]  I think of how the earth slowly swallows the works of humans, whether products of beauty or of ugliness.  Even as this gradual ruination testifies to ephemeral humanity, the ecological recovery of landscapes like these bears witness to the ultimate authority ecological forces still hold.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~   

About a mile from the Frijolito ruins, the trail forks.  The right spur hugs the rim of Frijoles Canyon, and heads towards the heart of La Mesa burn.  I take the left fork, striking southeast across a rolling mesa.  After another mile I glimpse a smallish hump of land through the trees to my right, Corral Hill, near which remnants of an old corral can still be traced.  Evidence of camps and corrals used up through the earlier parts of this century checker the Monument area, attesting to Ancestral Pueblans historical use of this land.

As I glance around the ruined corral, I wonder if the kinds of values that allowed humans to live in balance with places like the Pajarito could possibly be restored.  The paradigm of the commons, long harried by corporate and government adversaries, is a threatened species.  Is there fire to decompose our modern economic constructs, to release its energy?

Up on the plateau, the ponderosas and pinyons suffer mightily – the ips or pinyon engraver beetle at work, literally chewing through the life force of these trees.  Given the extended drought, sap flow has become slow and sluggish, insufficient as a natural suppression of the ips.   Unimpeded sap flow keeps these beetles from gaining a purchase for the laying of eggs and the spreading of fungal friends.  By product of the ips invasion, a blue-stain fungus amplifies the Ips damage by clogging the cambium arteries of each tree, further limiting sap movement that might expel the infidel Ips.  They’re an unbeatable team; more than 80% of pinyons and ponderosas, once infiltrated, fail to survive the initial onslaught.  Those that do make it become more vulnerable to infestation from still other agents; Western Pine, Roundheaded and Twig beetles, and fire.[vii]

From appearances, these dying tree tops and needle canopies in a drying climate seem like roman candles awaiting ignition.  This place looks like a wildfire waiting to happen.  But appearances may be deceiving.  This stand of trees could be more vulnerable to fire when the thunderstorms move through later this year if the dying needles cling to the twigs, or it could be less so if they fall first, removing the continuous source of fuel that would keep any flames moving.  These beetles are in a steep spiral of unchecked population growth.  How different from humans are the Ips in this regard?  Card-carrying lefty-environmentalists are quick to criticize the destructive role of humanity, but I can’t remember the last time Sierra Club or Wilderness Society sent me a mailing petitioning Congress to stop the ips beetle from chewing on ponderosas. 

The shift of power from the 1880s onward from Native and Hispano subsistence economies to Anglo market economies profoundly impacted the Pajarito.  The delicate ecological balances on the Plateau made it sensitive to even the smallest degradations.  Only so many trees could be cut before a Pueblo exhausted itself, only so much water was available for crops in so short a growing season, only so much grass was available to hungry Hispano sheep, goats and cattle.  Following the eventual settlement of the nomadic Navajo on reservations and final suppression of the marauding Apache, unprecedented extraction of resources and overgrazing changed the very character of the plant communities.  Native grasses slowly disappeared.  With cover decimated, soil was opened to erosion.  As timber cutters hauled out economically valuable trees, low quality scrub woods grew in their stead. 

Just as later fire suppression practices of federal agencies contributed to a buildup of fuel, the abuse of these lands from the 1880s through the early 1900’s also played a part in increasing fuel load.  With much of the under-story stripped of the grasses and shrubs that carried periodic fire swiftly through the woodlands, saplings that might’ve normally fallen prey to flames survived to grow up among their tall elders.  While the land barons lined their pockets with money, the ‘economy of fire’ on the Pajarito grew impoverished.[viii]  No one thought to limit their rapaciousness for Pajarito plentitude.

What are the limits to Ips beetles?  To fire?  Sap limits ips – oxygen limits fire.  What are the limiting factor for humans in places like the Pajarito?  Drought?  Climate change via global warming?  Empty aquifers?   Disaster here may be inevitable.  Bandelier’s Ancestral Pueblan ruins a mile or so back show evidence that this land, abandoned some 500 years ago, quite capably imposes population limits.  Did drought, lack of firewood, enemies, insect infestation, drive these people from their homelands?  What might yet drive us from ours?

But the Pueblans were not driven far, and they lived here in precarious balance for several centuries before they departed.  I envy the intimacy these people had in sustaining themselves in this harsh area for such an extended time, approximately five hundred years by archeological rendering.  Physical effort or intellectual knowledge alone can not provide such intimacy.  Surely I can immerse myself in this place and learn all the facts at my disposal, but I don’t yet have a clue about the spirit of this lonely plateau.  Do ips beetles dwell on such things?  Do most humans?   Perhaps all we can do is pay closer attention, adjust to each nuance, weather the disturbances, restore the connections that sustain us in such places, and hope for the best.

  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I keep an eye peeled for signs of fire.  Some time ago, a Bandelier National Monument employee who’d worked at Bandelier since before La Mesa had told me that a lightning fire had been allowed to burn a portion of the mesa near Lummis Canyon.  This, she said, was part of the Park Service’s effort to allow fire to take its rightful place on the Plateau ecosystems.  She added that recent research indicated that fires historically burned the plateau on an average of 5-12 years.  “That means that even La Mesa may be due four times over.”[ix]

Sure enough, as I crest a small plateau rise, I notice blackened boles of ponderosa, and a number of dead tangles of juniper and pinyon.  I stop and hold bits of charcoal to my nose, draw faint black petroglyphs on my hands.  Just when these particular trees burned is hard to say.  In this desiccated climate, decomposition as well as restoration slows to a crawl.  Landscapes tend to bear their scars a long time.  Here the scars of La Mesa remain prominent still.[x]

Perhaps a casually tossed cigarette or a random ignition spark from some engine triggered La Mesa Fire’s rapacious journey through more than 15,000 acres.  The presence of thousands of archaeological sites necessitated a hastily assembled plan for protection of those irreplaceable cultural resources from both the ravages of fire, but also from the roughshod strategies habitually applied to forest fire suppression.[xi]  Though the attendance of the archaeologists did mitigate much of the damage of the bulldozers initial passage through the affected sites, some of the worst harm came during later efforts, when crews returned to widen the fire line.  The experience was an unprecedented cooperative effort involving not only archaeologists and other NPS personnel, but also National Forest Service and Las Alamos Lab units.  La Mesa was a wake-up call to the importance of extreme sensitivity where ecological fire and archaeological relics coincided.[xii]

A hump in the earth a little to the south of the trail draws my attention.  I’d read that this mesa was dotted with small ruins.  I walk closer to investigate and discover the unmistakable tumbles of rectangular blocks of stone that signify an ancestral Pueblo home.  After exploring the perimeter of the site, I sit nearby.  I take out my lunch, breathe in the clear cool air, feel the warm afternoon sun on my face, and give myself over to reverie.

Sleepy from sustenance and sun, I lay on the mesa grass with my pack for a pillow and imagined myself on this plateau 500 or 1,000 years ago; pictured the gathering of foods, the excitement over a successful hunt, the fear of starvation, the tiredness in my body after lifting heavy stones to a growing foundation of home.  With my eyes closed I vaguely hear the soft murmur of voices, with them open I attempt to see an ancient landscape.  For awhile, my 20th century self disappears, all time fades and I exist only as a raw, feral organism on a living, breathing planet.  For a moment, I am restored to a Pleistocene essence, vicious modernity burned away.  I open my eyes, turn to the north and rise, my reverie ended.

  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I pause at Lummis Canyon, having traversed another part of the ’77 La Mesa burn.  Might a burn of that vintage have contributed to ips devastation?  With the fire having thinned out the stand, might the remaining trees be any better positioned to survive the drought and insect infestation?  Apparently they would not, or at least not so that I notice.  Whole stands of ponderosa had been blighted.  Other stands escaped, mysteriously untouched.  In pairs of adjacent trees, one might be fully hit, the other entirely whole.

Here at the base of Lummis Canyon, the ponderosas are fairly healthy.   Given the flowing presence of water in the creek, perhaps available water does make a difference?  Perhaps microhabitat effects enhance viability.  Some root systems may sink more deeply in somewhat more porous soil, or the water table may swell higher there.  Other less lucky tress may be cut off from life-preserving/ips-preventing water inoculation.  This is a capricious realm.

These newly disturbed pinyons, along with the fallen boles from the La Mesa burn, are becoming ruins themselves, and within centuries will work fully back into the soil and taken up by whatever plants may live here in the future.  After another mile or so, strolling through scatterings of light burn alternating with completely untouched stands of trees, I suddenly come to the brink of history itself, the deep chasm of Alamo canyon.

I pause for long minutes at this end of the Canyon, prior to the most challenging leg of the hike with 500-700 feet elevation loss and regain in the descent and ascent of the trail.  Extreme physical exertion at 7,000 plus feet, coupled with the emotional effort, make this a taxing traverse.  Some thrill to the traverse of high, precipitous places.  I’m not one of them.  I’ve always been subject to vertigo.  This, complicated by a pronounced lack of sensation in my feet in the aftermath of Guillan-Barre makes security over the traverse a daunting operation.  Though I’ve done this hike two other times, I still get a knot in my stomach at each approach to the canyon rim.

But this time I murmur a makeshift prayer before descending and focus on each footstep ahead, not on the sheer walls across from me.  As the trail makes its first precipitous turn down the steep wall of Alamo’s north flank, I lean against the rock face on the cliff side of the path, sweaty and fearful.  I’m torn between the wish to gaze out at the raw beauty stretching down towards the Rio Grande and back towards the head of the canyon, and the desire to close my eyes to the dizzying gap, my own personal paradox – a contradiction I may never resolve.  I briefly think of turning back.  I take a slug of water from my canteen, swallow hard and renew my descent. 

Gradually I relax a bit, and the painterly hand of ancient creases of water through Alamo on the rock canvas opposite me draws my attention.  Shingling of color and tone layered on sheer rock surface, sheathings of intricate markings lined in stone, mysterious caves carved by unseen force hundreds of feet from any apparent approach; despite my fear I become mesmerized.  My legs shake, as much from apprehension as from effort, when I reach the dry canyon floor.  Though the upper mesa surfaces cook in the mid-day sun, in the deep Alamo shade among tall trees, cold still clings to tumbled boulders, frosty dew like fine granulated sugar.  I shiver in the gusts of wind moving around bends in the barely wet sandy river bottom turns.  I imagine the seething water, alive and vital enough to have laid its path so deep down into the mesas lava flank.

As I climb the other side of the canyon, I must rest every few hundred yards.  I grow concerned about my shortness of breath and lack of stamina until I remember that I stand over a vertical mile above sea level.  I begin to enjoy the opportunity my rests give to view the natural art work carved into the other side of Alamo Canyon.  Though I can’t say the traverse is great fun, I’m more relaxed and confident than during previous hikes here.  It occurs to me that fear creates its own disturbance regime in the psyche.  That there is so little I can physically do to prepare myself makes heights particularly frightening to me.  No physical props help me work my way through the fear; the effort involves primarily the mind’s construct.  I wonder why I continue to subject myself to these primal encounters with fear, and how long I will be able to restore my courage.  Then I remember what lured me to this wilderness in the first place.

  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

From the mesa top on the other side of Alamo, the trail turns west, picks its way over juniper and pinyon plateau and across smaller canyons till gradually leveling out as it turns slightly towards the north.  After a mile or so I notice regular patterns to the mounded earth to my left.  Rectangular stones peek from the tangled plant over-growth.  Stepping closer, I see the formations are far from random scatterings.  I stand in the midst of a nearly unrecognizable Yapashi, vastly overgrown from when I’d first happened upon this place many years ago.  Does this render the place ready to burn?  In the long span of time, in a place made of fire, everything eventually becomes fuel for reconstructive disturbance.

Yapashi was one of the largest pueblos on the Pajarito Plateau.  It too was a contemporary of the communities at Frijolito on the rim as well as those in Frijoles canyon.  Estimates for its occupancy start in the mid-1300s and run till it was abandoned sometime in the early 1500s.  To the Cochiti Indians, its name ‘Yapashi’ means ‘sacred enclosure’.  The Keres name for the place is ‘Mokatakpwetka’matsesoma; ‘pueblo ruin where the mountain lions lie’.[xiii]  A football field sized expanse on the flat of a mesa, Yapashi is rimmed by a set of rectangular buildings.  Some walls stand intact but time, weather, and antiquities admirers have leveled most.   An array of pot-shards lay scattered; beautiful blacks, creams, oranges, patterned with stripes and spots. 

I hold a heavy black obsidian tool in my hand, picked up from the ground where I sit eating my lunch.  I imagine myself into the hands of the maker of this tool, the patient chipping away by an accomplished artisan.  I picture this stone rending sinew or rendering flesh of black-tail deer, or scraping the bark from a ponderosa.  I become a resident of this place, if only in my imagination.

Yapashi Ruins compels me more than other Bandelier Ruins, perhaps because time has reincorporated so much of it into the body earth.  I must reconstruct it with my mind, filling in the lives with my imagination.  When I was a kid, I believed that thoughts took up physical space; that the best and most original ones could be done in places and at times when no one else was around.  Crowded by others, the imagination is strained.  In Yapashi, my imagination works at its optimum.

Glancing up, I note another reason why Yapashi so compels me.  It commands a nearly 360 degree panoramic view of the Sangre de Cristos to the east running to Sandia Peak in the southeast.  Like Gran Quivara, another Ancestral Pueblan site in the Salinas Valley a hundred miles or more south as the raven flies[xiv], Yapashi was built on a mesa promontory with a commanding view of the high desert surround.  Is this for defense, as archeologists suggest, or is something sought in the spaciousness and beauty that people wanted to live with on an everyday basis?

Seasonal hunting patterns may have drawn them here.  The constancy of wind and vagaries of weather would seem to have made this an undesirable home.  What drew people to this remote plateau far from the seeming abundance of the banks of the Rio Grande and its Pajarito tributaries?  Some archaeologists postulate that extended drought in the San Juan basin and other lower elevation settlements may have made the relatively constant though by no means abundant rainfall an appealing alternative to their now collapsed habitat.

I think their attraction may have had something to do with the over 700 species of wild plants recorded in Bandelier.  Of these, Ancestral Pueblo used an estimated 300 as food, tool, or medicine.  What couldn’t be cultivated through a series of ingenious agricultural practices was gathered in season and stored against a time of need.  Though the climate may have been harsh on the Pajarito, more varieties of plants exist here than almost anywhere else in what some call the “Pueblo Province.” [xv]

Given this relative cornucopia of plenty and the obvious effort put into their settlement sites, many ponder just why the Ancestral Pueblo abandoned these uplands by the late 1500s.  Perhaps the weather worm turned once more and upland droughts made this place untenable.  Maybe, as was the case with their previous lowland basin homes, they’d used up too many slowly renewable resources – especially wood.  Or perhaps the populous villages in the valley of the Rio Grande were an irresistible allure to the people of mesas and canyons, a call still heard today by those of the country towards city dwellers.  Whatever the reason – or reasons – the secret was not divulged to me by the wind whistling through the junipers and singing over the ruined walls.

I sit at the larger of two kivas in the courtyard bounded by the surround of crumbling building walls.  An ant hill – industrious reds – lies at my feet, this Formicidae city having replaced the human one.   I’ve acquaintances who’ve rummaged through large-grained mounds such as this in search of treasures inadvertently hoarded by diligent ants.  A red and black striped shard sits at its edge, mute reminder to the passage of humans and ascendance of ants to the area, the shifting mosaic of species over time.  I rise and head northeast, following a small sloping wash as it drains off the main courtyard, turning over interesting shards as I move slowly down the dry rubble.  I kneel to examine a particularly exquisite piece and notice a small rounded mound arcing 30-40 feet to my right, perhaps a terrace for farming or a check dam built for water containment.

I walk over and investigate.  The mound traces a low semi-circular curve around a very old gnarled juniper.  Few stones stand, but I can not gauge this fact to the tree’s age, which for all its girth would not have existed at the time this rockery was laid.  Just on the other side of the juniper is a fully disarticulated skeleton of a mule deer, bleached white like mother-of-pearl inlay on the desert soil.  Upon closer examination, I note a couple of dozen larger pot-shards, arranged amid the bones.

I’d been told that the descendants of the Ancient Pueblan people still practice their medicine up here, some traveling on foot for hundreds of miles for the ceremonial power engendered in and around these remote ruins.  Perhaps this is one of their makeshift shrines, ode to a deer whose life has provided to others in its passing.  Post-gustatory pellets dropped by other black-tails conspicuously mark this place, a different kind of honoring.  I take the obsidian tool, still in my hand as I kneel at the bones, and place it gently next to the pot-shards, say a silent prayer of thanks, then depart.

From the crest of a small rise, several hundred yards from where I expect to find the Stone Lions, I notice the blackened boles of ponderosas, courtesy I presume of 1996’s Dome Fire.  Out of respect to the cultures which continue to visit the shrine as part of their spiritual practice, the Park Service, following the Dome Fire, eliminated all indication of Stone Lions from its maps and trail signage, hoping to alleviate potential negative impact.  Traveling from as far away as Zuni Pueblo, nearly 200 miles to the southwest, present day Native peoples, their maps etched in place-based consciousness and ancestral memory, still make the journey to this sacred site.[xvii] 

I grow anxious as I approach the shrine, unsure whether it survived the conflagration.  But as I round a corner past a cluster of pinyon and juniper, twin mountain lions crouch in stillness, now as ever ready to spring.  I slump to the ground exhausted as I slide my pack off and lean back against a sandstone slab at the perimeter of the two prone lions.  Fresh prayer ties spin slowly in the afternoon breeze.

I become aware of a serenity I’ve not felt all day, or for many days.  Immersed in thoughts of disturbance this last while, I forget that life also includes ceremony and celebration.  A ground squirrel chatters to my left.  I cast a handful of my granola-peanut-current mixture its way; the two of us munch quietly, each lost in our own thoughts.  Fire may come here some day, just as devastation may come to me at any moment, but for now I am untroubled by what may or may not come, restored to this moment outside of time.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Who knows how long I remain at the shrine; I hear two ravens gurgling overhead, a small chickadee lands in a nearby juniper.  I might have been dreaming.  I might have been wondering about how some things my mind knows to be dead, still feel more alive than ever to my heart, and that today my body and senses seem to be listening more to my heart than to my head.  I depart only with great difficulty, acknowledging many more miles to cover with few enough hours of daylight remaining.

Just a few hundred feet beyond the shrine, the character of the plant life changes significantly.  Left behind are the dense thickets of pinyon and juniper, replaced by tall, stately ponderosa with open under-story.  In a clearing where the land dips slightly from the plateau, fire has blackened and destroyed most of the trees that I can see.  As I climb the ridge up the dry cindery path I see the still fresh claw of flame on dead ponderosa bark; the mark of the Dome.

As the trail traverses the side of the ridge, I gaze back once more towards the Stone Lions, wondering if it was a change in fuel type, a turn of the wind, pure chance, or perhaps something mysterious beyond the ken of human reason that accounted for this vast fire stopping just short of that sacred place.  I want to run back down the trail to reassure myself that the lions remain but instead dip over the top of the ridge and down into a small canyon. 

I angle into a shallow basin and leave the fire behind.  A frozen stream cascades alongside the trail.  The old ponderosas seem barely touched by flame.  But as I round a corner, mute blackened snags evidence the fire’s passage.  For the next couple of miles, I walk through a dramatically altered forest, now quiet but for the occasional rapping of opportunistic woodpeckers, imagining the fury of flames that must have rampaged through here like a runaway locomotive, picturing my skin as bark exploding from my frame like a string of firecrackers.

  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Only when the trail reaches the upper end of Alamo canyon, and begins to curve down its still formidable flank does evidence of the Dome fire recede into the background, left at the rim where it could not descend.  I go ahead, past the memory of flames, down into the chilled embrace of the canyon.  Here the water flows where it can be seen.  Snow has barely melted.  The sun itself seems a stranger.  Cold, tired, I rest on a boulder and breathe coolness into my bones.

Rejuvenated after a few minutes pause, I gradually make my way up and out the other side of the canyon.  At the brink of the mesa, another landscape change startles me.  For miles around me, I see naught but an occasional blackened trunk and the endless stretching of grass covered curve of ground.  “Dome?” I ask aloud, and the wind shushes back through the whisky-colored grasses “yessss...”  Whether silenced from sheer exhaustion or lulled by the spare and quiet beauty of the winter grasses and shrubs that have covered this fire-ravaged plateau, my mind ceases its chattering.  I hear only the rhythmic pumping of my blood, primed by my loping footsteps, and the mesa wind.

  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Finally past the burned out ruins of the Dome, as I traverse the last segment of my fire walk along the rim of Frijoles Canyon I feel strangely discomfited.  With sufficient daylight and drinking water left, practicalities do not concern me.  Bodily fatigue at this point in a long hike would usually erode any anxious mind chatter.  The ominous presence of freakish, sterile white structures of outlying Los Alamos Nuclear Lab facilities no longer troubles me.  Since I began my research I have been dismantling my antipathy towards that place and their work, and view with more nuance and empathy LANL’s continued existence on this plateau.  Then it hits me: I walk in silence.  Not the silence of a still mind, but of an environmental quietude.  No birds call out.  No circling ravens or hunting hawks.  Nothing moves within my field of view but the tugging of up-canyon wind on spindly juniper and pinyon.   

I expected such a hush in the epicenter of the Dome Fire’s burn, but even there I was aware of chattering chickadees and flitting juncos.  However this section of the rim has apparently not burned over for many decades.  Just as the presence of fire does not testify to an ill landscape, its absence does not connote health.  If latent ponderosa cones pledge high-mesa growth, then what force beside fire could tease that promise into fruition?  And what self-respecting ponderosa could gain purchase in the dense stands of juniper crowding the rim? 

I wonder what has been lost with flame kept from this place.  Fire indeed destroys, but it also creates conditions for new growth.  Fire inured organisms require the periodic presence of flames to fulfill their potential.  Might fire-inured cultures also require periodic disturbance?  When something in us is kept from burning periodically, something else may not have necessary means to seed.

Larger systems maintain integrity by shredding the whole cloth into smaller strands that can then be rewoven into a new pattern.  In such ways the dynamic equilibrium of ecosystems and species – including humans – maintain an adaptable flexibility in the face of constantly changing conditions.  But what if that rapidly changing condition happens to takes the form of a crowning firestorm rampaging cross-mesa towards your home?  Pajarito’s paradox arises from this continually shifting dynamic of delight and destruction, paucity and plenitude, hell and healing.  Sometimes for new things to come together, the old must first be torn apart.

  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

[i] Tish Hinojosa, Aquella Noche, Album, Texas Music Group, 1991.

[ii] Riley, Rio Del Norte: People of the Upper Rio Grande from Earliest Times to the Pueblo Revolt.; Roberts, In Search of the Old Ones: Exploring the Anasazi World of the Southwest.; David E. Stuart, The Magic of Bandelier (Santa Fe, NM: Ancient City Press, 1989).; and Hoard, A Guide to Bandelier National Monument. In addition, Scott A. Elias, The Ice-Age History of Southwestern National Parks (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997).  Also utilized was Patricia Barey's National Park Service tract “Bandelier National Monument.”

[iii] Bandelier was 40 at the time.  Of Swiss blood (he had only become a naturalized U.S. citizen three years before), Adolph turned his back on his father's banking business for the lure of anthropological research.  A Cochiti Pueblo guide, Juan José, led him to his grand discovery that day.  Bandelier, through the example of his multi-dimensional work in anthropology, ethnology, archeology and geology would lead others to explore the vast history of the canyon and mesa area that would ultimately bear his name.  Hoard, A Guide to Bandelier National Monument  1.

   In 1890, Adolph Bandelier published a novel based on the lives of the prehistoric Pueblo peoples whose ruins he had discovered in Frijoles Canyon.  The Delight Makers was in part an effort to publicize his findings to an unenlightened general public, as well as a desperate attempt to generate funds to support further archaeological explorations.  Some have taken offense at his effort to imagine the lives and weave a story involving an ancient people he had no way of knowing.  Others criticize the book’s wooden and heavy handled prose and plot.  Though I agree that the book is a struggle to read and that in hindsight it certainly has its wants and foibles as an accurate portrait of a complicated people, I can understand Bandelier's desire to imagine it. Adolf F. Bandelier, The Delight Makers: A Novel of Prehistoric Pueblo Indians (New York City: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971).

[iv] First settled some time in the late 1200s or early 1300s, at the onset of a period referred to by archaeologists as the Rio Grande Classic Phase, Frijolito Ruins is thought to be contemporaneous with those of Tyuonyi and Ceremonial Cave down in Frijoles canyon.  Hoard, A Guide to Bandelier National Monument  53.  Pueblos of this time, characterized by a grander scale than those of the preceding Rio Grande Coalition Period, often contained several hundred rooms as opposed to Coalition settlements that seldom exceeded 20-25 rooms.  These larger sites reflected advances in agricultural and building practices as well as greater complexity in aesthetic, political, economic and spiritual realms.  However, increased populations may have also exacerbated the pressures placed on an already fragile environment.  By the time the Spanish arrived in the late 1500s and early 1600s, many of these mesa and canyon pueblos had been abandoned in favor of settlements nearer the Rio Grande. Riley, Rio Del Norte: People of the Upper Rio Grande from Earliest Times to the Pueblo Revolt  93-118.

[vii] "Pinyon Engraver Beetle (Pinyon Ips Beetle)," Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, 2 Dec. 2006, <http://www.ffsl.utah.gov/ID/pinyonengraverbeetle.pdf>.  "Forest Insect and Disease Conditions in the Southwestern Region," USFS and USDA Dept of Agriculture, 2 Dec. 2006, <http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/publications/documents/fidc2003.pdf>.

[viii] Rothman, On Rims and Ridges: The Los Alamos Area since 1880.; Simmons, New Mexico: An Interpretive History.

[ix] This statement had been made some time before the Cerro Grande Fire of 2000.

[x] In 1977, a new fire program was afoot for the Pajarito Plateau.  It was a bold step away from the long-standing “10am Policy” originally decreed in 1935 by Forest Service Division of Fire Control, whereby no fire would be allowed to flourish past mid-morning the day following its engagement by fire-fighting personnel.   That spring, National Park Service Regional Director John Cook had delivered news of a spanking new controlled burn program that encompassed the La Mesa area.   Henceforth, use of controlled burns would be one of the means at disposal in limiting the potential of uncontrolled blazes.  However, on the afternoon of June 16, fire jumped the gun on whatever policy implementation management may have had planned.

   By the end of the next day, the fire had spread onto Bandelier territory, by the 18th it was on a roll across Highway 4 and on its way towards Los Alamos.  Though progress was reported along the western, southern and eastern fronts of the fire on the 19th, it wasn't until higher humidities and intermittent thunderstorms began to come to the rescue on the 20th and 21st that management began to allow themselves hope.  The fire was officially declared 'contained' on the afternoon of June 22nd.  In all, 1370 people, 9 bulldozers, 23 ground water tankers, 5 air tankers, and 5 helicopters were deployed in the battle with La Mesa.  The taxpayer tally of about $3 million to fight the blaze has not been adjusted to 1999 inflation levels.  Rothman, On Rims and Ridges: The Los Alamos Area since 1880  278-80.

[xi] Head scientist for the NPS in the Southwest at that time, Milford Fletcher fortuitously saw the smoke on the way to a meeting with an old friend in Santa Fe.  He told Cal Cummings, another NPS official, that archaeologists needed to go ahead of the construction of fire lines.  Other NPS and USFS supervisors agreed.  Cummings assembled several dozen volunteers and Fletcher supervised them.  Ibid.  279.

[xii] I am indebted to the following for diverse and discerning perspectives on 1977's La Mesa Fire: Allen, ed., Fire Effects in Southwestern Forests: Proceedings of the Second La Mesa Fire Symposium  7-10, 206-14. (John D. Lissoway, "Remembering the La Mesa Fire;" Thomas R. Cartledge. "Heritage Resources and Fire Management: A Resource Management Crossroad"), Stephen J. Pyne, ed., Introduction to Wildland Fire  448-51.; and Rothman, On Rims and Ridges: The Los Alamos Area since 1880  278-80.

[xiii] Hoard, A Guide to Bandelier National Monument  70.

[xiv] Though there were some differences between the geographically distinct cultures, there is much in common between the peoples of Pajarito and those from east of the Sangre de Cristos.  For more information on the Salinas Pueblos, including Gran Quivara, see  Eugene P. Link, and Beulah M. Link, The Tale of Three Cities: Gran Quivara in the Southwest New Mexico, 1100 B.C. To A.D. 1963 (New York City: Vantage Press, 1999).  Also, Dan Murphy, Salinas Pueblo Missions: Abo, Quari, and Gran Quivara (Tucson, AZ: Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1993).

[xv] Listings of plants contained in Tierney, Wild Plants and Native Peoples of the Pueblo Provinces.; William W. Dunmire, and Gail D. Tierney, Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province: Exploring Ancient and Enduring Uses (Santa Fe NM: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1995).;Stuart, The Magic of Bandelier.; Hoard, A Guide to Bandelier National Monument.

[xvi] Riley, Rio Del Norte: People of the Upper Rio Grande from Earliest Times to the Pueblo Revolt  66-68.

[xvii] Stuart, The Magic of Bandelier  104