13 Jun Forth Goes the Road
Sitting in the quietness of my room, alone, packing and repacking, stressing over the realization of leaving home, my friends, my family, the comfort they bring, it was sinking deeper and deeper into my thoughts, but then, like a ray of light shining through a dark ominous storm, clarity struck. There are opportunities that arise which will change you, challenge you, and allow you to grow. All you can do is go forth. A cross country road trip lay ahead, marking the first leg of a 10-week long cultural resource internship with the San Juan Island Historical National Park in San Juan Island, Washington. My sister as my co-pilot and a little Honda fit hatchback as our land-ship, we drove up to the Pacific Northwest from Austin, Texas, documenting the importance of preservation and conservation of five National Parks along the way. We drove to north central New Mexico. Home of two important National Heritage centers. The first destination was a special park laying amongst an ever growing suburban community, Petroglyph National Monument. Sable boulders, meters high protrude over the beige backdrop of the surrounding landscape. The land is claimed sacred by Pueblo people and many others. Etched in the black boulders are rock carvings found by the thousands. Many of the glyphs align with larger complexes in the north and northwest. Loss of language between the past and present make it difficult for the images to be translated. Americanization in the 1920s forbade children to speak languages other than English, resulting in the decline of many traditional stories associated with the petroglyphs. Outside forces aid to the loss of language today. Encroachment issues are growing each year. Developers push close to the park. Private companies have been accused of destroying petroglyph rocks and clearing the borderlands. This is an issue that without action will result in the decline of a tradition as well as jeopardize a National monument. The citizens of Albuquerque understand this and take great pride in this sacred place. They have on more than one occasion, united together fighting for the protection of a symbol of ancient heritage. Three hours north west, down 15 miles of rugged dirt roads through Navajo backcountry, we arrived at Chaco Cultural Historical National Park. This park represents the complex societies of the Pueblo people. Made up of a temporal desert, decorated with large sandstone cliffs and shrub reigned valleys, along with 4,000 pre-contact and post-contact archaeological sites spanning over 10,000 years of human cultural history. Some of the most famous archaeological features are Chaco’s “great houses.” Some of the most massive, complex, and beautifully engineered structures of the Pueblo people. The structures were constructed to align with lunar and solar cycles. The stars were thought to also play a significant role within them as well. The importance of Chaco’s night sky has earned it an international dark skies title. Unfortunately, a nasty storm obstructed our view. Mystery of these buildings and the land are a product of language loss much like you see in Petroglyphs, but one thing is for certain. Cultural Heritage is the driving force behind the unity the communities of New Mexico share. It is what produces the power to limit threats these delicate places face and aids in their protection and preservation. Upward to Utah our next adventure lay in Arches National Park. An underground salt bed creates the foundation of the park. The layer is thousands of meters thick and is the root of Arches unique rock formations. 2,000 sandstone arches gave rise to the name while fields of petrified dunes span for miles, incredible sandstone fins shoot up like a mythical sea creature breaking the surface, and balanced rocks defy gravity; All these formations create the outline for the landscape and is the structure needed to support a delicate and diverse ecosystem. People from all over the world are drawn to Arches mountainous panorama, making it an extremely diverse and populous park. This is the most important aspect. no matter where you came from the power this place holds touches you in a way words cannot fathom. This place with truly humble you and open your eyes to forces of nature far greater than we are. Our fourth stop landed us in what seemed like a different universe, Craters of the Moon National Monument. Resting within two sleepy rural towns in Idaho this park’s geology tells the story of a once chaotic lava flowing wasteland. Dark porous stones lay scattered on top of fine grained black sands. At first glance you wouldn’t think anything could survive here, but you’d be wrong. Tiny patches of green flora peek out through the fossilized lava remains. Strange gnarled trees called witches broom reign. Sitting at our campsite reflecting on the destructive force nature played in the development of this environment mirrored by the persistence of life was almost too overwhelming. Like Chaco, the weather was not on our side. Heavy rainfall and near freezing temperatures were constant during the entire trip. It didn’t stop us from exploring. We managed to see the famous lava tubes, the giant lava spatters, and the beautifully eerie Devil’s Orchard. The most interesting thing that stood out to me was the history this place holds. This strange place has been inhabited by people for the past 12,000 years. The Shoshone people gathered here during the summer migrations as a place for worship and good hunting. Evidence of old teepee rings lay within the lava tubes and lava flow valleys. In the 1920s the park was proclaimed a national monument. The park caretakers at the time believed that the park needed to attract more people. They began to manipulate the ecosystem to better suit their ideals of what nature should look like. They removed and killed much of the wildlife without knowing that it was native to the area. This caused a shift in the ecology. Much of the park became barren. In present times the understanding of the original ecology is much more clear and restoration projects are in full swing here. The land is in a period of resurrection. This place is a symbol of hope that life and the environment can flourish again even when faced time and time again against destructive forces. We arrived at Olympic National Park, our last stop before San Juan Islands. Since leaving Idaho the landscape flipped a 180. Mountains covered by glaciers lining the Pacific Ocean, forests, and a temperate rainforest line the peninsula. The symbiotic relationships the ecosystems play have earned the title of international biosphere reserve. Native American coastal cultures have frequented the region for thousands of years and present. Making it a world heritage site. The towns surrounding the park embrace ancient traditions. The parks heritage is mimicked throughout its communities. The importance of keeping traditional alive and protecting the environment to which gave birth to those traditions is vital. Many organizations and support for the park come from these communities. Banning together is what protects this park from the same threats that jeopardize almost all parks. Olympic had the most sense of community out of all the parks. The mutual respect for what this place means is what will allow it to flourish for many years to come. As we left Olympic, heading forth to the San Juan island ferry, I reflected on all the places I have been throughout this journey. I have been truly humbled by the way people of all walks of life view these vast places. What it means to them and what it means to their heritage. One thing is sure, these parks bring us together with mutual respect for our natural world. There are also many forces that have been threatening our lands and it is up to us to raise awareness that these places, though beautiful, are in constant need of our protection. Fixing our own generation and teaching the next about the importance of conserving and preserving places like these is the only way we will keep their sacredness.