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October 8, 2013

Four Corners desert tells story of the Southwest

(Continued)

Mark and Ricky were dressed more or less like cowboys: bluejeans, snap shirts and cowboy boots. They wouldn't stray from this clothing choice for the remainder of the trip.

Mark turned out the lights and showed us some slides and gave us an overview of the region and told us what we were going to see, and I didn't really understand a word of it. (He used lots of archaeological words. I would later purchase a book he wrote and not understand any of that, either.)

The next morning, we headed for Chaco Canyon. This is a place that looks like something you'd expect to find in the deserts of North Africa. Yet here, for 400 years, from the 9th to the 13th centuries, the complex civilization of the Ancestral Pueblo, or Anasazi, once thrived. Our very own Timbuktu.

Getting to Chaco is no easy task. We drive on small farm roads, cross from Colorado into New Mexico, turn off onto a hardpan dirt road, and then drive for 20 excruciating miles. Our two vans vibrate as if they're going to crumble to death at any moment, as dust swirls in the air. Mark and Ricky use the van's intercom to explain everything that we'd be seeing if we weren't driving through a dust cloud. And I mean everything. Trees, rocks, plants, weeds, weather, buttes, mesas, ancient riverbeds, wildlife — being an archaeologist apparently makes one an expert on just about everything.

For a brief moment, the dust clouds part, and I point off to the right at an octagonal structure residing next to a trailer home and two red pickup trucks.

"Is that a hogan?" I ask. I'm already starting to pick up the lingo. Yesterday I would have seen just a trailer home. Now I know a hogan to be a traditional Navajo dwelling, the door to which always points east.

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