On a bus in a deep Asian jungle,
Full of rain and wet,
I thought of a time when I
Held my memories in my hand,
Squeezing them and squeezing them…
I thought of a box with a lid
Cracked open, a gap where we see
Time walked in parks, hands held in
The fading light of a distant day. Hollow
Trees on campus greens, places where
Gold was hidden. Moments so
Fragile, like plates thrown into
The air, suspended.
People I wave at, smiling.
I knew them once.
Yes – a kiss hurled by the hand,
Like a football toss in a game. Looks
Before lights dim, glimpses and
Memories trapped, sealed in a box I
Hold under my arms on days when views
From cars mingle with my mind, and
I’m taken from jungles to dry moments when
People waved, and I waved back.
Fragments from the Desk of the Esteemed Poet,
J. Humbert Riddle, Lately Deceased…
By Causes Unknown
The reader might be confused by this Riddle poem. So, a few notes.
I found these “Fragments” intact in one of the dark recesses of Riddle’s desk,
And, though I dug, was unable to find the other “Fragments,” assuming of course
That more to this strange piece exist. Riddle, apparently, had arranged these “Fragments”
Himself, and odder still, scratched in the title you just read. How he knew he was about
To die, and “By Causes Unknown,” might just be the central mystery
Of this poem.
I am a sick man.
I am a poet whose poem
You’re reading right now you
Are and I am a sick man,
A sick poet-man I am…
Mumbling at a bolted down
Desk while bars bar the way
To sunshine and I tremor to
Tremor to hear lunatic wails
Weeping through the walls
That bar me and that bind
Me to cells bored deep
I am a sick man.
I am a sick
Man I am a
Sick poet-man I
Dressed to the nines in
White washed rooms that reek
Of madness and measles
That dot the walls and
Whisper that whisper to
Me I on dry nights with
Thunder calling my name out
Today I got up and set off from Cortez, bound for the far rockier and rugged San Juan’s. This required backtracking to Durango and then driving straight up what is called the San Juan Skyway, which as far as I can tell is probably one of the most scenic, beautiful, and a bit terrifying stretches of road in the entire country.
I say this because the San Juan’s are unlike any range in all of Colorado. They are extremely pointy and steep, and the roads down in the South twist and turn far more than they do in the North. This makes not only for these famous roads, but almost for some truly jaw-dropping views. The eye just goes on for miles, with the jagged peaks making for an almost surreal landscape. This is what it seemed like on top of Molas Pass, which is in-between Durango and Silverton.
Once down into Silverton, I realized that this is probably one of my favorite towns in all of Colorado, mainly because it’s so remote. I think it’s the Easter Island of the state, a place that’s tiny, pretty hard to get to, and basically survives on tourism. It just has a feel about it, and I swear the air is fresher and purer. And the light, reflecting off the jagged peaks that surround you, make for a place that almost seems to preternaturally glow. It would be fun to spend a couple of days just in this little place.
From here probably the most famous drive in Colorado begins, over Red Mountain. This is a truly twisting and turning road, and is absolutely beautiful, with red mountain sides that spill down from pointy peaks. You honestly feel like you’re in Switzerland. At the end of the pass as you enter Ouray there’s also this great turn off where you can look at Bear Creek Falls, which is where the original toll booth was in the late 1800s. This was pretty smart business savvy too – you have to pay, since there’s literally no other way across the mountain. This stretch is called the Million Dollar Highway.
From here you finally come into Ouray, which, if this part of the state is like Switzerland, Ouray is like Interlaken, or one of those high alpine towns surrounded by peaks. I also think little Gimmelwald is a good comparison. I spent my time in Ouray basically just wandering around admiring the views, and took a quick dip in the hot springs and checked out Cascade Falls just above town. I could stay here for a couple more days I think, mainly because of the awesome ghost towns tucked away in the surrounding hills. But I’ll save that for another trip.
Today was at first a day where I couldn’t seem to find the right road. I wandered around, certain that I was right, but ultimately had to turn around and look at my guide book. I am definitely a humbler traveler because of this. I was looking for Hovenweep National Monument, which is actually just over the border in Utah.
The drive takes about an hour, and goes largely over a gravel road up beautiful McElmo Canyon, which is covered in red cliffs and a very fertile valley that actually grows some wine. I drove right by Sutcliffe Vineyard. You then cross the border into Utah and the landscape becomes a barren, foreboding, bleak, almost scary landscape. Like if your car broke down you might die. Or wander off into the desert like Clark Griswold. Hah-hah. But the bleakness gives way to a site I was very surprising by, mainly because I wasn’t really expecting all that much.
Hovenweep is a series of interesting Puebloan structures that, like Mesa Verde, are built along the sides of a canyon. What makes Hovenweep so awesome is that there are massive towers and palace-like buildings. There’s also a great trail that winds along the rim, going through massive sagebrush, and desert sand. It was also very hot again, and I added a new layer of burn to my “tan.” I hung out here for about an hour before driving off along a barren county road that eventually cut back into Colorado and the Canyons of the Ancients. I was looking for Lowry Pueblo, a place best known for its massive kiva.
And one thing that struck me immediately was basically how Colorado, at least in this area, beats out Utah in beauty. Utah was bleak and barren, whereas he hit Colorado and suddenly you’re in this beautiful farming community. You also drive on a gravel road, and usually pass by farmers working in their field. The end of the road was Lowry, which was great mainly because I had the whole place to myself. There’s nothing like being at a site with no one else around. You tend to forget how much noise people make.
After Lowry I cut back through the fields to a bigger highway, drove through underwhelming Dolores, dropped by the equally underwhelming Anasazi Cultural Center before getting the urge to go back up to Mesa Verde. I only made it as far as the Visitor Center, though, but still love this drive. Tomorrow I head back North, driving the San Juan Skyway in Ouray.
There are certain places that are like a magnet, and just seem to draw you in. Mesa Verde is definitely one of these places – which I think is ironic considering how long it takes to actually drive up to the ruins from the park entrance! It’s like the place just has a feel. Like you can sense that a lot of human history was lived right here.
Other people know this as well, or at least feel it. One of the things I was struck by today was the many languages heard. There was a lot of French, German, and Chinese. But, this diversity naturally lends to a place that is an international heritage site. No one person or culture owns this place.
Today I basically took in the main sites on just one of the mesas, Chapin Mesa; which has all of the classic Mesa Verde sites, like Cliff Palace and Balcony House. Undoubtedly, though, my favorite part was when I set out on a 2 hour long hike to see some petroglyphs. I am a sucker for rock art, and have seen some of the classics in Lascaux and Altamira. I guess I wanted to see how Mesa Verde stacked up.
My first mistake was just aimlessly wandering down a trail that I didn’t realize was basically an intense rock-climbing trip. You hug the side of a canyon wall, and climb up and down fallen and broken rocks as you slowly amble out to the very end of the canyon, where a single wall of petroglyphs await before you literally climb to the top of the mesa for the walk back. I horribly burned my neck and ears.
The hike, though, was worth it because of the hand prints!! I know this sounds odd to be so excited, but the hand prints on the walls of caves in France and Spain was why I went to these European caves in the first place. These are like ancient signatures. A person saying hundreds of years ago that I was hear and that I made these. What a statement of human creativity! And all of this perfectly supports one of the main things that has been bumping around in my mind. Basically, we are all the same. We sign things across continents and across time. There is something so human in an ancient hand etched into a canyon wall.
I spent the rest of the day driving and climbing around to other ruins. From of all this I would have to say that I am the most struck by the mystery of Mesa Verde. Basically, no one really knows much about this place and the people that lived here. They simply walked off into the desert one day. There’s no written record, and most everything is guess work and speculation. And I love the thought that for something like 500 years this entire place was just a silent ruin. Massive cliff dwellings with no one in them. Only the endless chatter of birds that you can still hear today. This little thought actually gets back to another common theme in all of my travel writing over the years… that travel is, at the end of the day, a very sad, sobering adventure. Everything vanishes, and all of the life lived under these cliffs is essentially forgotten. We all just walk on.
Today was a nice day, mainly because it made me think about so many places I’ve been. Small moments that brought back some memory. I think this was mainly because all I ever seem to go to are ancient ruins and sites that are usually perched somewhere on a distant mountainside. I thought about Macchu Picchu today, Mystras, a small town in Greece, and Delphi. All of these places are remote, and resemble a mountain landscape that looks like this:
And like this:
Both of these pictures are near the Chimney Rock National Monument outside of Pagosa Springs. The actual Monument is between Pagosa Springs and Durango, and you hike up to it along a ridge, where you get closer and closer to two giant rocks that dominate the landscape.
I loved this because it made me realize that human beings have pretty much always been attracted to unusual features in the landscape, and living on remote mountain tops. I’ve seen this all over the world. Along the way you also see the actual ruins, which get more impressive the higher you climb.
Until you finally reach the top, right next to the rocks, where you have the great pueblo.
What I found most interesting about this, besides the similarities between this place and others that I’ve been to, is how these people lived underground, in their pit houses and kivas. I like this because it seems to suggest that they found comfort in an underground setting – which usually is the opposite. The underground is a terrifying place for most cultures, since it’s full of irrational and uncontrollable things. But, here, I feel like this is the opposite. The upper world, the normal world, is the terrifying place. It’s like they tried to get back deeper into the earth, rather than rising above it. Which seems to make sense, since that’s where we all came from in the first place.
After seeing Chimney Rock for most of the day I spent some time in Durango, where I hung out at the Strater Hotel, and walked around town.