The Puebloan People

Mesa Verde

Imagine a set of cliffs, overhangs, and caves hidden deep in the heart of Colorado. On first glance they’re dark, dusty, and desolate, but look again! You’ll see prominent signs of ancient but well preserved life.  In fact, you might even see Cliff Palace: A huge apartment building nestled in an overhang. This is Mesa Verde: An ancient Puebloan city.

I remember my first sighting of freestanding brick-and-mortar Puebloan ruins. I had seen Mesa Verde 2 days previously, but New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon is another whole thing. I imagined what it must have been like for the gang of cowboys who stumbled upon this great Puebloan treasure. On a hike that brought me above the ruins, I looked down on the ancient city and thought of this old Washington D.C., and what it must have been like all those years ago when it hummed with life and great colorful lines of people poured in.

In a cave in Bandelier

The ancient Puebloans are not what I think of when I think Indian. I think tepees, animal hides, and moving to follow the herds. Not permanant buildings and Roman-esk roads. This old southwestern tribe is sure to surprise you.

There are many old ruins of the early Indian cities. Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, and Bandelier to name just a few. There are even several cities that claim to be the oldest continually inhabited cities in North America. Acoma (also known as Sky City) is the oldest, while Toas is a little younger. There are various building styles, too.

Mesa Verde

At Mesa Verde all of the houses are made of large stones and set in alcoves in the cliffs.

In Chaco Canyon the hotel-style homes are built with stone, and are, in some places, at least 4 stories high.
Bandeleir’s unique pueblos are the most apartment-like yet. They’re chiseled into the rocky mountain side, more like man-made caves than anything else. If you go on a tour now, there are ladders to get up into the rooms, but I imagine the Puebloans at Bandelier used Moki Steps: little holes carved into stone that make it easier to climb.

In a cave at Bandalier.
In a cave at Bandalier.

Many people who think of Indians as primitive would be surprised to hear about all this, but even more amazed at what I’m about to say.

Mesa Verde

If you stand above the crumbling city in Chaco Canyon and look out over the land, you’ll see well-worn lines that are the preserved remains of a network of roads lading in and out of the old Puebloan capital. These roads brought merchants and visitors in, and led local voyagers out. See, we can assume that either Aztecs came in, or Puebloans journeyed south to see them. We get this idea because their designs and building style suggest Aztec influence. There is also an interesting myth that we’ll talk about later. Right now, I want to focus on the trade.

Mesa Verde

The Puebloans had birds. Strangely enough, these birds were parrots and macaws. The only explanation for these uncommon pets, since they certainly don’t live in the wild in New Mexico, is that the Puebloans had contact with people in a tropical country. How is this possible? The ancient New Mexican Indians were not primitive people. Their roads were long and led to many far-away lands. It is not at all unbelievable that they could meet with people in southern Mexico who had tropical animals.

Speaking of surprising, I promised a Puebloan myth. The Indians around here have a story that Montezuma was from Pecos. He moved to Mexico, they say, and rose power. It’s interesting that they have such a story and makes one wonder if it’s based in truth. There are some ruins that some say were an early Aztec temple, but experts insist it was not. Still, it makes you wonder what the basis for this claim is. Another mystery is the living places of the Puebloans. Why did they go where they did, stay where they did, and leave when they did? We can never be sure. My guess would be that something in their beliefs led them to do what they did, but we can’t know.


The final thing I wish to share is perhaps the most unsettling. Of all the people who lived in Chaco Canyon, only three skeletons have been found. Where did the Chacoans bury their dead? No idea. There are guesses, of course. Maybe visitors carried bodies out to lay them to rest elsewhere. Maybe there’s a cave or a pit somewhere full of bones and we just haven’t found it yet. It makes one wonder. Only three skeletons have been found.

Featured image: Chaco Canyon. Photo Credit: Me, or Gordon, or Mom. Photo Editing: Me.

Hot Air Balloons

Most people don’t think about hot air balloons very much, probably not at all, unless you live in  New Mexico. There is a huge community of balloonists here, who fly annually at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. Every year, they assemble the balloons before dawn and fly up with the sunrise.


It’s surreal and peaceful, even romantic, watching balloons float up into the sky, then glide easily through the air, sometimes dipping down to touch the water and coming back up. At the same time it seems almost ridiculous that a giant balloon is floating around. Like it could be in an old moving-picture from the 1930s.


The point, however, that I’m trying to make is that most people don’t lose sleep over hot air balloons. Lots of people don’t even think about them at all, which is precisely what I want to change! I want people to know how cool hot air balloons are! Just imagine commuting to work in a giant, flying balloon! You just land on your building and take the stairs from the roof to your office/cubicle/meeting room, etc.


There’s no need to worry about parking spaces. If you want to get your daily frappuccino, just fly to Starbucks and float gently above the drive-through window, order and fly away! So simple! You can avoid the traffic and ride peacefully above the chaos of roads, cars, and streetlights.


The other nice thing about hot air ballooning is, it’s just FUN! Too many people worry about too many things when they could spend that time having fun! So next time you commute in your SUV and have to deal with traffic and noise and other people at Starbucks, just ask yourself: Why don’t I own a hot air balloon?


You may think: Oh, I can’t fly a balloon, It’s much too hard. Or: I probably need a really obscure license to fly one. First of all, flying a balloon, although tricky, isn’t impossible. You can sign up for classes and become a student balloonist. Then for your student’s license, you just need to meet these FAA conditions:


The minimum age to become a student pilot is 14.

You must be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language.

You must have no condition that would prevent you from operating the aircraft safely.

Student pilots may fly “solo” after completion of specified training and demonstrated proficiency in pre-flight preparation, rigging, operation of controls, lift off, climbs, descents, landings, emergency procedures, and a passing grade on a written pre-solo test.

See? Just take a few classes and a test and you’re ready to fly!


There’s a story about Albuquerque’s best balloonist: Sid Cutter, who owned an airline and was an impressive businessman here in Albuquerque. He threw a big party for his mom’s birthday in his airplane hangar. He decided to buy a hot air balloon as a decoration and put it in the middle of the hangar.
The party was amazing and the balloon was a great attraction and proved to be even better the next day when Sid and a couple friends tethered the balloon to the ground and inflated it. They were sitting in the basket when someone below cut the rope. They were off, Sid piloting the balloon he had only ever been in once, his friends ogling in disbelief. They cruised gently above Albuquerque and landed in a field a few miles away. Sid loved it, the next year he set up a balloon exhibition and race in the city fairgrounds and thirteen balloons showed up. Over the years this yearly event got bigger and bigger until it mushroomed into the balloon fiesta today, with over five hundred balloons going up during the mass ascension. Without Sid and his willingness to have fun, the Fiesta wouldn’t be what it is today.


The Sailboat: A Beautiful Mode of Transportation

People have been using sailboats for over five thousand years, but this wind powered vessel has been thrown aside as steamboats and powerboats take the stage. Many people see the sailboat as slow, boring, and rather nauseating, not to mention unnecessarily hard to use. I myself used to refer to sailing as “Pure boredom, with moments of sheer terror.”

But since then I have grown to appreciate the relaxing sway of the boat, the way it gives you time to enjoy the scenery, and the real ease with which a sailboat can be handled. Dad and I drove out to Colorado not long ago and got our beautiful Com-pac 16, Sparrow. She’s amazing, and makes me feel even more that we need to share the beauty of sailing with the unaware world!
iphoneimport 1962

Let’s start with the invention of the sailboat in 3000 B.C. This whole thing was started by the Mesopotamians, making an easy way to get to the middle of lakes for fishing. As they had been using rowboats prior, they could not get out too far from shore. Their early boats were propelled by square sails, allowing them to catch a lot of wind. Because of these sails, however, they had to sail in the direction that the wind was blowing. They had to row to go another direction, or else anchor and wait for the wind to change. Another problem was that the wind would blow them around, off their course. But whatever the issues, the invention of the sailboat revolutionized transport in Mesopotamia.

By 1 A.D., the sailboat had spread throughout the world. Different peoples had their own ways of doing things; their own successes and their own failures. All the way out in China, the problem of getting blown around was solved. The Vikings are often given credit for the invention of the keel, but in truth it was the Chinese, with their Junk boats.

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(This adorable sailboat that my Dad made for my little cousin is actually a great example of a Gaff sail.)

A Junk boat is a Chinese sailboat that looks, save its square (Gaff) sails, no different than any other. There is a huge difference, however, hidden in the hull. Not unlike the modern-day keel, the first Junk keels were rather narrow, long strips several feet deep that stretched all the way across the hull. This prevented the wind from blowing the boat off course, and it made sailing much more easy.

In 700, the Vikings made their famous keels. They weren’t the first to the invention, but  they did make their own innovation in the way of sailing. Their sail was more rounded, and they could go in more general directions with ease. 

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A Latten sail.

 At the same time the Arabs were working on their sail. They came up with the one most commonly used today: the triangular sail called a lateen. It wasn’t nearly as hard to use as the square sails, and they could go to 70° toward the wind. They used their sailboats mainly for trade.

The keel and lateen weren’t united until the 1800’s, making the ultimate combination, the modern sailboat. Now sailors could go 45° toward the wind (the keel helped in that area too), and they didn’t get blown off course. Sailboats were solving tons of travel problems. Crossing land by covered wagon was exhausting, hard, and slow. You had to feed your mules or horses, and stop to let them rest. But in a boat, across oceans, your sails can carry you day and night. All you’re feeding them on is wind, which isn’t hard to come by. The sailboat was, and is, the ultimate traveling device. 

iphoneimport 1967
This brings us right up to this year, 2015, when Dad and I got a sailboat. Her name is Sparrow, and she is beautiful. She’s a tiny 16-footer, with an 8-foot beam. Her corners are rounded with brass, and the portholes shine with the same stuff. She’s just perfect. Some of you, of course, will still choose to believe that there are many ways of moving about the globe that are better. So for you I admit that a sailboat isn’t totally flawless. It has one slight problem: Good luck skiing.

Traveling Turtle Tuesday: Albuquerque Balloon Festival.

We’re currently in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the Albuquerque Balloon Festival. It’s really cool. On Sunday we woke up at 5 A.M. and went to watch the Dawn Patrol, where the balloons take of just as the sun rises over the mountains. Trouble was, there were clouds, and the wind was blowing the wrong way. The balloonists had to wait for another hour before they could take off. It was really cool to watch them all blow up all around you. There were about 600+ balloons in the sky that morning.

All of the balloons in the picture below are inspired by/copied from balloons we saw.