I sit on a rock in an alcove suspended a hundred feet above a canyon floor in the Moab area. At my feet is a nondescript rusty metallic box. The box contains a clutch of pamphlets and a legal notepad tied to a cheap pen with a string. The notepad is a guestbook of sorts containing dates and entries by previous visitors, gushing gratitude for the privilege to be here. To get here, you also need a trusted friend who will share with you detailed directions to reach here because this place cannot found on any map or GPS device. There are no signboards that will lead you here. Then you need an appetite for adventure and a motivation to navigate a terrain that can get treacherous.
The laminated pamphlet is an abridged version of the archaeologist’s code of conduct that, amidst other things commonsense, urges the reader to take all precautions necessary to protect the site, including being prudent about disclosing the location. It is a final official plea to “one more” enthusiast who somehow managed to reach a place he was not supposed to have known existed.
Today afternoon, there are three of us in the alcove. For the hour and a half that we have been here, we have barely spoken a word; breaking the silence as a last resort, not first choice. We have being treading the floor gingerly, like men in fineries in a muddy garden patch, walking to spots we absolutely have to, using the space economically. We have touched nothing that is not ours. We will not leave anything behind. Our actions – or the lack of them – are dictated by no code – written or otherwise; the sheer atmosphere of the cavernous alcove warrants the behavior - like a dim lit, camphor smelling, cool inner sanctum of a temple does.
I am at a historic site, developed and used centuries before the Spaniards were spotted on their horses in America. The Anasazi have been here and it is easy to see why: The alcove would stay cool on a torrid hot summer afternoon, retain heat in a blizzard and stay dry in a torrential downpour. Yet a foot tall circular wall, about ten feet in diameter, built by stacking stones with no mortar is the only tell-tale Anasazi signature left behind. There are no drawings on the walls of the alcove, no dimpled adobe structures, no blackening of the roof. Seems like the Anasazi did not live here or stay long enough to light a fire. Because the alcove is too close to the canyon floor? Too easily accessible, not safe enough? It seems, when they came here, they were passing through. Perhaps they stopped over, stealing a few moments of solitude, from their rigorous daily routine – get water, light fire, stay alive. Or were they sent here to repent for a sin, this place a penitentiary of sorts, where the shackles were made of guilt not metal? Could the view bring them here? Is this a cozy meeting for young amours – ancient lovers lane?
Like many things about Anasazi, we will never know the purpose of this place, an alcove with a symbolic kiva tucked into a picturesque canyon in the middle of nothing.
A buzzard swoops down from the sky and glides over the bedrock in search of a desert rat. The sun traces its route due south. Tufts of cumulus float aimlessly, their whiteness making them unworthy of their reason-to-be. The precipitous cliffs fall sharply to the canyon floors, their jagged sides a geological chart of tectonic activity in ages gone by. The Cutler bedrock disappears into the horizon to meet other cliffs, to form unknown slot canyons, any of which might have a similar cave, and a pious ring of rocks, yet to be found.
Taking a cue from the Anasazi, we pack up and leave unceremoniously.