Chaco Canyon, NM

20 miles down a dirt road, in the remote desert of Northwest New Mexico, you can find an ancient wonder that is not talked about as much as the Great Pyramids nor The Great Wall of China, but it is a true wonder in this world. Chaco Canyon, is a sacred site that is not referred to as ruins, by the locals. They believe that these great buildings are returning to the ground at the end of it’s life cycle, just as we return when we pass. Not much is known for sure about this place, in fact it’s shrouded in mystery. We do not know where these people came from, why they left, where they all went, nor what they even called themselves. One of the only things we do know for sure, is that throughout the canyon, buildings were being erected from around 900-1100 CE. To put this into perspective, 800-900 are considered the 10th century, (when Vikings settled in Iceland) and 1000-1100 are the 11th century CE. (The High Middle Ages in Europe)

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Lone horse on our 20 mile drive down the rough entrance road.

When and if you decide to venture to this sacret site, the one thing I cannot stress enough to be prepared. This land is not to be underestimated. Chaco Canyon is not a tourist attraction made to cater to the conditions that most people today are accustomed to. There are no hotels with air-conditioning, there is not a nearby town stop and get food and supplies, to get out you must travel a very long and bumpy road, that, under certain conditions, are impassible. Remember it is the desert and it can get dangerously hot during the day and by nightfall, it can become extremely cold. Bring clothing for both conditions and plenty of containers to hold water. We found that having a camelpak for each person was extremely helpful. There are pumps to get clean water here, but I would advise to bring some with you just in case something happens on the rough trek into the site. Your only choice for the night is to camp and it’s very important to set up before the sunsets. Make sure all of your food is safely put away because the land belongs to the wildlife and they will search for food to survive. In the middle of the night, we were awoken by coyotes directly outside our tent. They moved on pretty quickly but it was a reminder of how wild an area we were in.

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Above is a photo of Pueblo Bonito (Pretty Village), the largest great house in Chaco Canyon. This location seemed to be the center of the Chacoan community. It stretches across 3 acres of land and had at least 800 rooms, reaching up to 5 stories tall, in some sections.
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View of the inside of a Kiva in Chaco Canyon. Kivas were used for religious ceremonies and gatherings.
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View of Pueblo Del Arroyo, a Chacoan Great House. This great house had over 300 rooms and was occupied from AD 1075-1250s.

IMG_2996The truly amazing thing about this place, is the fact that it is visited so scarcely. As we traveled up into Colorado, we found ourselves visiting the famous cliff houses of Mesa Verde. After 9am it was packed with visitors pushing past each other to get a look at the buildings from a great distance. Here, in Chaco Canyon, you can walk right up next to these ancient homes. You can study the intricate ways in which these people designed their community. When walking through the doorways you can almost feel what it was like to live here.

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View of butte from entrance of Chaco Canyon.
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Sage Against The Machine

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(Man’s best friend, standing in solidarity with the people of Wiyot.)
On Tuesday September 19th, John and I were heading North on Redwood Highway 101, through the town of Eureka, in Northern California. On the corner of 5th and E street, lined up on the edge of the sidewalk, a group of individuals chanted together and held signs towards the street. As we drove past, only a few words on the signs were registered to our memory, and even they didn’t make much sense to us,“Wiyot,1860, Tuluwat.” We quickly looked up “Wiyot” to find out what was going on.
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We soon discovered that not too far from where we were at, on an island where the ancient village of Tuluwat was located, a horrible massacre occurred in 1860. Though the exact number is not known, an estimate of over 200 women, children and elders, from the Wiyot tribe, were murdered by the hand of white businessmen and landowners that had made their way West. This occurred at the end of the annual world renewal ceremony, a ritual meant to help heal the earth and the people’s hearts. This important ceremony to the Native people wouldn’t be performed again until the year 2014, 154 years later. This mass murder was only one of the most famous instances of violence that happened to these people. Since European settlers came to Northern California, there had been a progressing pattern of killings, rapes and even kidnappings for these vicious men to obtain slaves.
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The massacre had been the end of Natives on this island. They had been relocated and put in conditions comparable to concentration camps. The land had been “bought” by a man who thought his cattle were better suited to live on this land. A shipyard repair facility was also seen as a better inhabitant by the “settlers”, so much so, that it ran until the 1980’s. The owners were even nice enough to leave behind walls of leaking batteries from the ships that came through. It wasn’t until June 2004, that finally about 60 acres of the island were given back to the Wiyot’s. Since then, they have worked endlessly at healing the scars of industry. With rusted metal scraps left like mines, they have tiptoed through, and piece by piece, ton by ton, reclaimed their land. The determination to revive this corner of nature, has been inspiring and shows us all what we can do for the rest of the planet if we work together to heal wounds from the past and work towards a better tomorrow. In June, the Eureka city council even agreed to begin negotiation on returning the remaining amount of the island that is not privately owned, to the Wiyot peoples.
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So what’s the problem? Why were there people desperately trying to get the attention of drivers passing through town? Horrified at what we learned about the towns gruesome past, we then looked up current events with the tribe and saw that after finally getting a section of it back after over 150 years, after all the effort the tribe put into the land to restore it, they were once again in jeopardy of losing it. When reading on how this could possibly happen, I felt as if I were re-reading the story of how it was taken from the Wiyot’s in 1860. It’s the same story that has been happening to Natives all across North America since European settlement. It’s the story of a greedy man that will always want what is in his neighbors pocket. This man’s face and name may be different from the man who took it years ago, but he is the same inside. Another embodyment of greed and bigotry that’s plagued us through time, a wicked thorn in the paw of what could be a country that means it when they say “Liberty and justice for all.”
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Rob Arkley has offered Eureka $500,000 for the remaining land that was meant to be given back to the tribe. He has turned his greed into a political battle to manipulate people into getting his way.“They’re talking about giving it away, you’ve got to be kidding me!” Arkley remarked,“I want to know why they’re declaring it surplus land to begin with.”I can’t help but wonder if he would have the same attitude if something was stolen from him and then auctioned off rather than given back. He claims that he wants to keep the land public for the community to use but logic makes you wonder what his real motives are, what are his actual plans for this island? The tribe believes that nature is for everyone to cherish, and have been restoring it for the community, to enjoy. If his real concern is keeping it open to the public then what does he have to gain when that is already being done? He has plans that aren’t being made public and that should worry everyone.
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After our research, we turned around, parked and joined the cheering crowd. As cars passed beeping and smiling in support, the cheering grew louder. “Tuluwat cannot be bought!” became the chant that would be repeated. Children jumping up and down singing along, were at the beginning of the sidewalk.  Many in the crowd were in fact native themselves, but welcomed friends from many different cultures. A man from the Wiyot tribe connected a microphone to an amp and began to speak, with a fire and a passion that changed a little piece of the world that day.
“When we come together we are powerful, when the people take power, the government must listen.”he encouraged ” If the people will not speak for the people, then who will?”
He sang a song from his soul, before a young woman performed a song with her guitar; that brought all of the gatherers hearts together in solidarity.
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All of this took place in front of Rob Arkley’s business building, and I know it made an impression on the town, though I doubt it made a change in Arkley’s heart. Luckily, he publicly made some bigoted remarks about the city council and “It may feel good,” but,”it certainly isn’t intellectually a bright thing to do.” I think his inability to think before he talks will end up leading to his failure. Sometimes money can’t get you what you want.

Programs That Make Travel Easy

   So you want to travel the country or maybe even the world, but you don’t know where to start. You don’t know how to find a place to stay away from home, you don’t know how you’re going to safely find your way around a place you’ve never been, and not end up on the wrong side of town. It may all seem scary when thinking about all of the unknowns when going somewhere new for the first time. It may even be scary enough for you to put those plans in a box and throw it in the storage room in your head and tell yourself, “I’ll get to it one day, when I have more money or more life experience,” but as you know, those are just excuses. Fear is the biggest obstacle that is preventing you from attaining a very achievable goal. To help eradicate those fears, here’s a list of organizations that will not only will give you a place to stay, but may give you a support system while away from home.
  1. This one is for the United States but there may be similar programs in other countries that I am not very knowledgable of, so I will not put them here. If you are wanting to do similar work in other countries I encourage you to research and find if that option is out there for you! While visiting National Parks in the U.S, I have talked to employees who applied for their jobs online and then got housing right at the park! Often times it is significantly cheaper than renting an apartment nearby and they can have your rent come right out of your paycheck. While in employee housing you may be around others who are in the same boat as you are and are therefore looking for a support system away from their home. Reach out to others and often times they will do the same to you.
  2. This network of organizations gives you an opportunity to live and learn on organic farms around the world.  Your host provides you with not only accommodations but you will also be fed. Talk about saving money! Besides taking care of your basic needs this also gives you chance to learn a skill and trade that you will know for the rest of your life!
  3. This site is so amazing because it connects people to almost any kind of work you can imagine! Are you an animal lover? There’s an animal welfare category. Passionate about education? You can help at a school! It’s not just a single organization using this, you can work with families just looking for cultural exchange or individuals needing a little extra help. In exchange for a few hours of hard work a day, you get food, a roof over your head, and people who want to teach you about their home as well as to learn about yours!
  4. This websites brings together AuPairs and families together safely. You become a temporary member of your hosts family and exchange your language and cultures. Your duty as an AuPair may vary from family to family, but the general expectation is to help out around the house with whatever is needed; most often childcare and household chores. In exchange, the hosts give the AuPair pocket-money and a place to stay in their home.