I sat on bedrock in Mule Canyon, my back to a warm rock, arching over it to release the tension in my back. The hike to this spot from Vaughn’s truck parked at the trailhead had been easy. A two hundred feet descent to the canyon floor, a winding path path through sand and underbrush, finally a scramble up a slick rock on a ledge no wider than my shoe.
In front of me were four Anasazi rooms. Doors and windows built into walls of sandstone slabs held together by mortar. The ruins faced South, typical Pueblo III style and were sheltered under an enormous overhang. The sun was close to its high point for the day. The slickrock deflected the sunrays to the roof of the ruins, the underside of the alcove. Fissures in the rock, sculpted into the sandstone over several thousand years by erosion, caught the warm orange-gold hue and created a startling illusion of a house on fire. Starting inside the room on the left, coming out of the doorway, the flames seem to rear upwards in search of oxygen. I could almost hear roar of the blaze and smell the burning wood, so fantastic was the image.
My hands wrapped around my knees pressed to my chest, I could not help wonder: Did the Anasazi randomly pick this spot to build a house?
All those years ago, at night, the Anasazi lay under a gigantic star studded sky and meticulously studied the passage of heavenly bodies. Their knowledge of the cosmos is well demonstrated in the outstanding astronomical alignment they built in Chaco and Hovenweep. They understood the passage of the sun and the moon across the sky. So well, that they could place a hole in a wall such that it cast a spot of light in a specific niche only on winter solstice. They pecked a nine foot petroglyph of snake on a canyon wall such that on summer solstice, an arrow shaped shadow would precisely bisect the head of the snake. The Anasazi, they were of superior human intelligence with great power of observation.
They constructed their houses with careful deliberation. In the late twelfth century of the common era, a combination of circumstances compelled them to move from living on the mesa top to alcoves in cliff faces. They built homes that stay warm in the bitter winters but were cool in torrid summers. Their houses were virtually inaccessible and supremely defensible. They used material available on hand to shape and color their buildings to easily meld into the surrounding landscape. Without doubt, the Anasazi were accomplished builders.
But did they appreciate beauty?
To that Vaughn had a simple answer. “Look at their pottery.” he says, “Could a civilization that did not understand the finer nuances of aesthetics ever produce such masterpieces?” Had such elegant designs not been in high demand, would the the Anasazi women ever spent their time with a yucca brush and berry dyes?
I have no doubt, 900 years ago, an Anasazi sat almost exactly where I sat. He probably came to sit there on several different days, month after month. He carefully noted the pattern of the rocks and the time of the day it exploded into a certain color. Then he built this house, stone upon stone, knowing exactly the picture he was painting.
The Furnace House is most definitely an advanced Anasazi art form.