Photo Essay

Canyons of the Ancients-Land of Enchantment-Land of Mystery

Canyons of the Ancients

The Four Corners region of the American west is a great area for adventurers, historians and dreamers. It is referred to as the Four Corners because it is where the four states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico all come together. It is a region steeped in the history of the Anasazi.

Anasazi stands for "The Ancient Ones" who are also referred to as Ancestral Puebloans. Archaeologists estimate the Anasazi people lived in these canyons as early at 7500 B.C. By the 13th century the Anasazi had disappeared from the area altogether leaving only artifacts to memorialize their existence. Although, there are many theories nobody really knows why they left or where they went. Their disappearance remains a highly debated mystery to this day.

The most famous and well-known Anasazi ruins are found at Mesa Verde, Colorado. People come from all over the world to take in the grandeur of these extraordinary ruins. But, there is a lesser-known place where you can go to view excellent ruins with far fewer people to distract you from the siren calls of an ancient people. It's known as the Canyons of the Ancients. Canyons of the Ancients only fairly recently received National Monument status, having received the designation in 2000. The area contains a huge number of archeological sites, approximately 6,000 have been found.

I actually stumbled on this wonderful monument quite by accident. My habit is to just jump in the car and take off with no destination in mind. I turn down any road that looks interesting or less traveled in my never-ending quest to find natural nuggets that haven't already been photographed to death. Often, it seems, I am guided to exactly the right place at exactly the right moment.

The day I found Canyons of the Ancients it was the perfect spring morning with just the right mix of bright blue sky and puffy white clouds providing the perfect backdrop to the rich red rocks. There is a very easy trail that wanders along the rim and down the sides of the main canyon known as Sand Canyon. As I walked along I saw not only breathtaking vistas but also ancient pueblos chiseled into the canyon walls.

In addition to the incredible beauty of Canyons of the Ancients another special feature is the fact there are very few people in the off-season. I was there in April and encountered exactly one other person in five hours. I was able to just wander amongst the ruins at my leisure or sit quietly and daydream about a time gone by; imagining what life was like for these primitive people, wondering where they came from and where they went. For me the canyon had a spiritual aura about it. I found myself with goose bumps on more than one occasion. What I felt is difficult to put into words but I imagined I felt the presence of ancient ghosts.

For some distance the trail follows along a shelf halfway between the top and the bottom of the canyon. In many places I was able to climb right up into the ruins. There are bits and pieces of artifacts strewn everywhere I looked. You really can get up close and personal not only with the ruins but also with the beautifully sculpted rock formations. A landscaper could not create anything more beautiful than what Mother Nature does all on her own. Huge boulders, flung randomly, look placed. Cedars, elegant models bent and twisted by hundreds of years of wind, appeared to be the work of a master sculptor.

At one place, on the rim overlooking Sand Canyon, I stopped to ponder the fate of the Anasazi. Because there were no other people or distractions I was able to let my imagination run wild. As I sat there looking out over the fabulous vista I imagined myself one of them. What I was seeing was exactly what some Anasazi saw thousands of years before. It was as though the canyon was a time tunnel through which I could travel and connect with ancient spirits. The wind blew through the canyon at just the right velocity to create a soft sound that seemed almost like ghost whispers. What were the ghosts telling me? Maybe they were telling me to live every moment to the fullest drinking in all the beauty I can because one day, like the Anasazi, I too will disappear.

Canyons of the Ancients is a magical mystical place and one you do not want to miss if you are in the area.

©Kinsey Barnard

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