Larry Jordan

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Take the Trail

Jul 21, 2022 by Larry Jordan, in Travel

Most people see the world from the most accessible vantage point, but we learned that if we want to find perspective, learn something, and see more, then we should take the trail.

Long ago, one of the highlights of our first year together was a trip to Canyon de Chelly, when we hiked the trail to White House Ruins. The hike leads to the bottom of the canyon, where we forded the river, explored the ruins, and observed a Navaho shepherdess (dressed in traditional garb.) 

The experience was priceless and timeless, surpassing the remarkable view from the rim, and we anxiously looked forward to returning to the same spot on our recent trip.

Today, the cottonwood trees have overtaken the native vegetation, choking the river, and the ruins are surrounded by a chain link fence, no longer accessible to the hikers. Menwhile, the shepherdess abandoned the hogan on the floor for a double-wide on the rim, and the hogan was bulldozed to make way for the Indian jewelry stands and porta-potties.

In less than a hundred years, the human landscape has completely changed.

Later, we stayed at a bed-and-breakfast in the Grand Staircase-Escalante wilderness, and we hiked to the North Creek Shelter, the oldest evidence of human habitation on the Northern Colorado Plateau, where people have lived almost continuously for 9,500 years.

Today, archeologists are excavating layer upon layer of fire circles in the floor of the cave. Paintings on the cave wall are visible to the naked eye, featuring prehistoric heiroglyphics from several eras, as well as graffiti from the nineteenth century and twentieth centuries. It is inspiring that we mark our presence, but sobering that we we leave so few markings.

In less than a thousand years, the human landscape has almost completely disappeared.

Finally, we hiked through the dramatic terrain of Badlands National Park in South Dakota. From the road, the canyons and spires appear colorful and dramatic and imposing, and  the foreboding landscape seems harsh and permanent and unconquerable.

From the trail, the experience is quite different. The formations are not rock;  instead, they are compacted ash, chalky or sandy, crumbling in your hands and under your feet. Exhibits in the visitors center confirm that the formations are fragile and recent, and that the ever-changing landscape was a seabed before it was a forest before it was a badland.

In less than a million years, even the geologic landscape has completely changed.

For me, the impermanence of our lives and our homes and even our landscapes makes it even more important that we take the trail, doing and seeing and understading all we can in the relatively short time that we have and appreciating and enjoying this time to do so.