I wanted to stand where humans had stood a thousand years ago, but in a place that had not changed since then. I wanted to see what those people had seen, to hear what they had heard. I wanted to know what it felt like to traverse their territory by their same means of travel. There are locations in the lower forty-eight that meet those qualifications, where a person can experience the shade of a bluff when that shade becomes invaluable rather than being just a novelty, and the sound of a silence that provokes thought, if not profound introspection. There are places where you will hear neither planes overhead nor vehicles down below, where the hum of transmission lines is non-existent. But you have to earn your presence there. The mode of transport can only be your feet. And it must be far enough away from cars, trucks, and buses that none could be heard moving. And you must necessarily be alone, that is if you want the full effect.
The place I found that best met my stipulations was Chaco Canyon in the northwest of New Mexico. Here was a quietude that cannot be found, I’m sure, in the East of the country. To hike through these sands with the mid-summer sun straight overhead, to position yourself miles away from help, is to gain a sense of another existence. The ancient Puebloans of Chaco Canyon hauled the building materials for their copious metroplexes across this desert, as well as their trade goods–and not only across the canyon floor, but up and down sheer cliffs hundreds of feet in height. They carved out foot and hand holds in these walls, as well as thirty-foot-wide staircases in the bluff-tops. These were part of their highway system that stretched for dozens of miles in several directions.
The Chaco seem to be the first of the Puebloans (Anasazi) to have learned the art of stone architecture, but those techniques and others were disseminated during the 12th century, when a veritable building boom hit the Southwest of the present day U.S. Houses and communities began to be constructed in and around canyons, and even in alcoves of sheer cliffs hundreds of feet above the ground. At that same time, a building boom was happening in Western Europe. The first wave of Crusaders, particularly the Knights Templar, had returned from the Holy Land with an unprecedented knowledge in the area of architecture. They began building cathedrals–magnificent houses of worship that even to this day stump the experts. No one knows where that ability came from, or how construction was accomplished other than the rudimentary aspects of it. Somehow, incredible methods of architecture were burgeoning simultaneously on two continents at the same time, where they had not existed only a short time before. These are the kinds of things a person thinks about while grinding through a desert.
In Ireland, there are three mind-boggling structures that were built by transporting hundreds of gigantic boulders for several miles, and some million quartz rocks for ninety miles. They sit near each other in the same valley, and each contains passageways that receive the sunlight for a few minutes on certain predictable days. Newgrange, the most astounding of the three, lights up internally at sunrise on the winter solstice. The sunbeams creep along a sixty-foot passage, ultimately illuminating a thirty-foot-high chamber in the structure’s center. The light soon slides back down the passage and leaves the interior in blackness for another year. On Ireland’s west coast, there sits a complex of stacked-stone buildings known as bee hive huts or ring forts. That they have existed in place for so long gives testimony to their remarkable design. They overlook the Atlantic Ocean from a sheer cliff, giving the appearance of a set of defensive works. Some archaeologists believe these buildings to be 4,000 years old. Expert speculation abounds as to the purpose of the Chaco complexes and their carefully-designed and laboriously-manufactured roads and stairways. Likewise the mound-structures and beehive huts in Ireland. It is all just a guess. We know that the Templar Knights built cathedrals for worship, but there seems to be other, more cryptic incentives underlying those massive endeavors. Nor do we know the provenance of any of the aforementioned architectural mastery. One attribute that the medieval cathedrals, Newgrange, and the buildings of Chaco Canyon have in common is that they are all in alignment with one astronomical event or another–either with the course of the sun or the cycles of the moon. If we are allowed to ask questions in the afterlife, those that my brain posed as I rested under a bluff in the New Mexican desert, or as I stood in the chamber at Newgrange, would be at the top of my list—higher even than questions about the pyramids. In one way or the other, they all pertain to the Architects.