Recently, we took a trip to Cortez,
Colorado, a place most of you have probably never heard of. I certainly hadn’t until a couple of years
ago when Tanya’s brother moved there.
It’s an hour and half flight from Denver via Great Lakes Airlines and
about 40 miles from the “Four Corners” where Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and
Utah meet. Cortez’s claim to fame is
Mesa Verde National Park, a vast area that was once the home of up to 50,000
ancient Puebloan people, often referred to by the Navaho word “Anasazi”.
Despite the harsh climate conditions and
rugged terrain, these people once raised crops and survived on the plains and
mesas of what is now southern Colorado/Utah and northern Arizona/New Mexico. About 800 years ago, several groups of these
people decided they’d had enough of the windy tough conditions up on the
plains. They started building cliff
dwellings below the mesas and plains. The
idea was to provide better shelter and better defensive positions from their
enemies. There are hundreds of these “apartment
complexes” in the park and each one housed about 100 people. Many of these
dwellings are relatively easy to access today but they certainly weren’t when
they were occupied by the Pueblo peoples.
What is remarkable is that these people
had to dig toeholds in the rock in order to get from their cliffside apartments
up to the plateau areas above, where they grew their crops and hunted. Except for water, virtually everything the
village needed had to come from the area above the cliff dwellings. That meant daily dangerous trips back and
forth for firewood and food. You can
imagine how your life options became more limited when you got too old and
feeble to make the trip topside. But
after about 100 years of this type of living situation, these people abandoned
their cliff homes and moved elsewhere.
It may have been because of disease or hunger. We just don’t know.
This started us thinking about how the
decision to move out may have actually been made. Imagine the courage it took for one young tribe
member to finally go against the tide of public opinion of the group to get
them thinking about leaving. It may have
been after he saw one of his buddies fall to his death climbing up the cliff
face. Or maybe one day, he thought to
himself, “This is ridiculous! This is no
way to live. I’m out of here! Who’s with
Going against the status quo is often unpopular. But sometimes it’s simply the right thing to
do. Perhaps we could all use a little
bit of the courage of our imaginary Pueblo cliff dweller.