The Colorado Plateau, Part 3



This diary continues where the previous diary left off and completes the series. Feel free to consult any of these Colorado Plateau/Four Corners region diaries for general information and research given whatever interests you. This is also the main reason why I posted these missives.

An Island In The Sky Motif
As a whole, the celebrated hallmarks of the Colorado Plateau represent its fashioned geologic backdrop. In its entirety, this territory is the region’s most striking natural blueprint seen on many levels. Indeed, it’s virtually an island in the sky (meaning, the distinctiveness of an elevated landscape that averages around 6,000 above sea level). Regarding the inclusive ecosystem of disparate biotic communities found here, an amazing and mixed roster of life forms exists in one expansive province that may boast the greatest diversity of creatures and plants anywhere on the planet (and specifically based on the perspective of different life zones at varying elevations). The Plateau’s lowest point is something like a few thousand feet above sea level to the highest elevation at nearly 13,000 feet (measured to the summit of the highest landmark, namely one of the summit's of Utah's La Sal Mountains). In between, the various plateaus, like stationary ships rising above the horizon, are broken by fault lines and steadfastly cut into by rivers and streams. Some of the rivers, notably the Colorado and Green, have inscribed deep, impressive canyons that appear like ornate scrimshaw as seen from a bird’s eye view. What Nature has produced here is simply outrageous in the best sense of meaning.

Master Drainages Of The Plateau
Over the eons, and abetted by the relentless erosion, the appeal and charm of the Colorado Plateau was created one clastic particle at a time (the loosening of same from every solid rock feature). Each element, including faulting and folding of its foundation, fabricates the landscape. In great chasms, like the Grand Canyon, as the Colorado River deepens its furrow, the exposed layers are immediately targeted by the elements. And it doesn't take too long to do the job, at least in a relative sense.

Sunset Crater National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ:

Thus it's this primary catalyst of water that does the majority of work throughout the Colorado Plateau. This river is also the master stream in the province, thus denoting the Plateau's eminent namesake. The river's 1,450-mile sluice-like course traces its headwaters from the Continental Divide at La Poudre Pass near Estes Park. On its run down to the Gulf of Mexico, the Colorado River dissipates over 10,000 feet. It is indeed a formidable drop in elevation, with a combined watershed of 246,000 square miles.

The second master drainage is the Green River, which merges with the Colorado below Stillwater Canyon inside Canyonlands National Park. To add a third drainage for the sake of a trinity, it’s a tossup between the longer Rio Grande (1,896 miles) and the shorter San Juan (400 miles) rivers. Since the San Juan traces its headwaters in southwestern Colorado and flows into Utah, where it later merges with the Colorado River, it drains more of the Plateau’s turf than does New Mexico's Rio Grande. Consequently, the preeminent three drainages of the Colorado Plateau are the Colorado, Green and San Juan rivers. These conduits of varying volume (measured in cubic feet per second) have carved and created the most sublime canyon country in North America, and some go as far as saying the most sublime in the world.

Surprisingly, the Colorado River barely makes it on the list of the top fifty rivers of the world: it's rated forty-first! Yet here in the Southwest the Colorado is considered the master stream, with the added moniker of being an aquatic prima donna. Formerly dubbed the Old Dragon River, this epithet has gone with the wind. That’s because the dragon has lost too many of its teeth since the major damming of its watershed began in the 1930s. Indeed, it doesn’t even flow all the way to the Gulf of Mexico as once it did. Large irrigation diversions for California’s Imperial Valley through the All-American Canal, and to a much lesser extent, a network of irrigation diversion projects, such as Central Arizona Project, have equally dewatered (i.e., denuded) the lower course of the river below Yuma, Arizona. Still, the watershed of the Colorado is enormous, covering parts of seven big Western States and two equally large Mexican States, all of whom fiercely compete for the Colorado River’s diminishing resources. Ever since the 1956 Colorado River Storage Project Act was approved, whose authority stems from the earlier Colorado River Compact of 1922, which effectively regulated the seven Upper and Lower Basin States involved in divvying up the Colorado's liquid assets, the moniker mentioned above was in force.

Ute Mountain Tribal Park, Cortez, Colorado:

The tribal Park also features scores of excellent glyphs:

Another fine sample:

One Step At A Time
The bas-relief of the larger pedestals of rocks, namely the Plateau's baronial plateaus, render a sense of freedom for the territory’s abundant open spaces. This is also a vastly different big sky country and motif compared to Montana (the state’s unofficial motto) or Wyoming. The numerous chains of solitary plateaus lining the horizon enhance the already super-sized dimensions of the desert landscape. Elongate and engaging to the senses, their blue to red-orangish to maroon facades, the tincture depending on the light of day, stand out on low to higher elevations. Particularly in Utah, the geographical design and floor plan builds a greater floor plan of the state's Grand Staircase. Each plateau making up the series transforms its sandstone-based frontage in multicolored banded layers. Hence, the profile of a rising staircase. From this larger foundation of accumulated and compacted terraces is honed separate citadels, starting with mesas, then buttes. If the chemical and weathering process continues, some formations turn more splendorous, creating an array of fins, turrets and totem-like spires, and the rarer and more ornate hoodoos.

Valley of the Gods, Utah:

Additionally, there are phenomenal natural bridges made out of petrified stone and grandiose windows etched from solid sandstone walls. Such marvels are because erosion, as a natural artifice, has so many ways to embellish features, that is, given time and an ideal climate and materials to hone. All three aspects compliment the Plateau's arsenal of visual treats. In the more highly adorned places, like Monument Valley and the neighboring Mystery Valley, lithified formations jut straight up from a broad dished valley floor, each landmark taking on a variety of suggestive shapes. For example, totem poles, a stagecoach, an arm chair, a big thumb, even anthropomorphic figures seemingly touching the roof of sky. Each celebrated monument is not only uniquely fashioned,but also uniquely and personally mesmerizing, perhaps even sacred for those who view Nature and Spirit in an arcane sense.

Wupatki National Monument, near Cameron, Arizona:

Nature has obviously crafted the Plateau much differently than any other geographic setting in North America. Recalling how this province once got its start from the geophysical force of subduction, which led to an epic elevation gain beneath its base foundation, can you imagine what this region would have looked like had there been no uplift? Actually, the layout of the original low-lying basin would not be any different from, say, any other desert and planed environment, where the typical landscape is mundane and cracked, and with moving or stationary piles of sand here and there. Neither would there have been articulate canyons created by down-cutting rivers, and likely no volcanic intrusions breaking through the crustal pavement. In short, a more or less sterile environment sans a chromatic palette of tinctures.

Where the Sun Rules Like A Monarch
Because the Colorado Plateau is governed by a predominantly arid climate, it erodes more slowly in places that are not close to a river’s corridor. Within the boundaries of a river or a stream, however, erosion happens relatively quickly. Springtime flooding or summer’s monsoon precipitation (from mid-July to early September) are usually nothing less than stupendous flows considering how powerful the force of water is or can be. Consequently, the course of any body of water is greater regarding its vertical dissection, whereas most of the rest of the Plateau is left standing relatively high and dry.

By contrast, some 55 to 60 million years ago the Plateau’s climate was more humid. A pluvial climate, meaning a prolonged period of abundant rainfall lasting thousands of years, was also fairly nominal. Due to prevailing conditions millions of years ago, increased precipitation and humidity abetted the chemical and physical breakdown of landscape features. It was also during this cooler, wetter period when broad plateau surfaces were developed fairly rapidly (again, in a relative sense).

Waterpocket Fold (Capitol Reef NP vicinity), Utah:

The Higher The Volume, The More Effective The Agent
Do climatic changes also affect the temperament of rivers and steams? Most assuredly. How did the master architect of the Plateau, the Colorado River, along with its drainage sibling, the Green River, perform its task? Specifically, by the physical means of erosion and wearing away of its river channel. Another common question to entertain is how did deeply incised canyons, like the Grand Canyon, evolve in the symbiotic process, and so quickly? Notably, all rivers and streams do the majority of their work when in flood stage. That’s when the flow of water, measured in cubic feet per second (hereafter c.f.s.) is able to move a considerable amount of debris (i.e., sediments to rocks of varying size) in its path. A heavier flow of water can therefore move whatever it can downstream. That's because water acts like liquid sandpaper steadily grinding across the surface. In short, the rushing flow digs deeper into the bedrock when it has more force. Factor in pulsating episodes of springtime flooding, especially the greater and former deluges from various Ice Age epochs (as glacial melt that funneled down from the mountains and scoured canyons). You soon get the picture why and how rivers throughout the Plateau have been able to down-cut into the terrain as deeply as they have. The process will also continue for as long as there is elevation to go before sea level is reached.

Zion National Park, Utah:

Add to the above how the volume of the water is doubled and the river’s momentum increases. It’s therefore capable of quadrupling its transport materials. To think of it another way: if the volume is a mere 6,000 c.f.s., the amount of material transported is 36,000 c.f.s Thus there is a squared relationship that takes place when the river is at flood stage. It’s precisely this critical factor that accounts for the river’s amazing transport capacity. Simply put: the higher the c.f.s., the larger the materials that move downstream. This is essentially how streams and rivers break up the hard bedrock materials.

Then again, in less forceful water (a lower c.f.s.) the bedrock, which is the substrate beneath the path of the water, is also essentially unaffected. That’s because the moving silt, sand, and gravel, even the smaller rocks headed downstream, are transported above the surface of the bedrock. This is the reason the river or stream doesn’t excavate the channel or perform like nature’s makeshift wet sandpaper. Boulders, however, which can be defined as much larger rocks, some the size of small compact cars, though much heavier in mass, can and will deepen the channel. It follows how the seasonal floods have carved great depths of canyons over the ages and in a relatively short span. Again to mention the pivotal point: glacial runoff was the most stupendous force that gets the nod for doing the most work grinding on the very bottom of the channel, and therefore making chasms, like the Grand Canyon, expeditiously deeper. That being said, glacial activity may not have had the effect of land feature sculpturing in the Southwest as occurred elsewhere, but its byproduct––ice thawed to water––certainly did play a secondary role.

Zion NP, another memorable view:

Elevation Differences
A simile of the Colorado Plateau compared to an island in the sky was mentioned earlier. This prose-like description defines the uncommon features of its elevated landscape compared, say, to the contiguous Central Highlands of Arizona (the Mazatzal Mountains). Albeit all provinces throughout North America have their respective significance relative to climate, beauty and features, the Plateau’s island-in-the-sky’s motif comes down to the fact there is no comparable counterpart anywhere on the planet––the topographical features are that different, even extreme.

Wherein lies the difference and the singularity of the territory’s promotion given such a description? Varying altitudes relative to varying plateau settings. This is what best qualifies for the Plateau’s aforementioned motif. Even its low country is still considered high country in view of the uplifted terrain that managed to keep the cake layers intact throughout the geologic processes that affected the overall veneer (notably, uplift, downcutting and erosion). From the average base level of around a half mile’s elevation to three of the highest plateaus, the Sevier, Markagunt, and Aquarius, each over 11,000 feet high, the Plateau’s outcroppings get even higher. Its array of lofty mountains is even more noticeable due to the lower landscape each rises from (as a base foundation). For instance, Mt. Peale, which forms the highest summit of the La Sal Mountain range, is 12,721 feet in elevation. Moab, Utah, whose base landscape stretches out below the range, is 4,026 feet. The difference in elevation gain is therefore noteworthy.

Because there are so many plateaus at varying levels, the elevation differences throughout the Plateau entails ecozones vary from level to level. This means the plant and animal population is as far-reaching and distinct as depositions from three major rock-chapter eras, each storing a variety of fossilized remains. Those life forms that exist today are also those that have adapted to the changing climate affecting the Plateau. Yet the low deserts and high alpine settings tend also to confuse the flora and fauna that presently compete for existence on the Plateau’s multilayers. In one sense, the sweeping record of life forms throughout the Plateau is not entirely part of one or the other topographical feature, but can sometimes overlap to a degree. Moreover, since this province is a relatively arid landscape, every plant and animal species must find its place in the changing life-zones that are best suited for select biotic communities. Precipitation and temperature, especially the extremes of each, are the main determiners of what lives where. Gradients of altitude also play a role, where light and elevation are important, including the precipitation and temperature that affect the gradients.

Colorado Plateau Scenes (Shiprock, New Mexico):

The Intricacies Entailed In The Web Of Life
All the previously mentioned factors help describe the island motif of the Plateau. This motif can also be construed as a web of life extending from the desert scrub terrain to the boreal forests in the higher elevations. If one was to hike from, say, the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the top of Mt. Humphreys, which is one of three summits in the San Francisco Mountains, the changing ecozones would compare to those found all the way from central Mexico’s Lower Sonoran Desert to central Canada. And if one makes it to the 12,633 feet elevation mark, or else as far as the two lower summits, Agassiz (12,356 feet) and Aubineau (11,838 feet), it follows such an exhaustive achievement places the hiker on alpine terrain that equates with the Arctic tundra. Thus the enduring bristlecone pines show up, which are some of the oldest living creations on the planet, which are associated with the Arctic tundra life zone. Affected by harsh winds, these pine branches grow only on the leeward side of the peaks, appearing like stark weather vanes. Some branches are twisted and stunted by the shock of the weather and seem to crawl across the ground forming a cold carpet of krummholz (meaning, "bent wood"). Marmots and pica are also at home in such rarefied air above the timberline. So are ptarmigans. However, for those hikers who brave the roughly eighty-mile jaunt from the basement rocks of the Grand Canyon to the summit of the mountain, the few thousand comparative miles represented by the changing life zones between central Mexico and the Arctic is well worth the trekking experience.

Colorado Plateau Scenes (Buttes and Mesas; Mesas and Buttes):

Combined Water Sources––The Lifeblood Of The Plateau
On the whole, nature’s stencil of creation for life forms existing throughout this territory ties everything into its webbed pattern. It also creates a tangle of incongruity that often baffles the mind. For example, the typically bone-dry desert country is cut and therefore affected by the Colorado River. Other major tributaries that affect the Plateau’s hydrology, as well as the erosion each creates, are the Green River, whose headwaters flow down from the high Wind River Range in Wyoming. Eventually, its drainage merges with the Colorado River near Moab. Other rivers in the drainage network are the Gunnison, Yampa, and Dolores in Colorado, the Escalante and Virgin in Utah, the San Juan, which flows through Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, and the Little Colorado in Arizona. These major drainages, including a large network of streams feeding into their respective channels, are literally the waters of life that permeate the Plateau’s infinite nooks and crannies.

On the other hand, while greater and lesser aquatic sources serve the purpose of drainages coursing throughout the Plateau, the main conduits of the rivers are mostly ensconced within deep canyons carved by their specific aquatic architects. Compare these Southwest’s rivers to the Ohio, Mississippi or Missouri Rivers and realize it all comes down to the accessibility factor, as well as climate, when determining the direct or indirect utility of one region’s rivers over another.

Colorado Plateau Scenes (Singular differential erosion):

The Singularity Of Water In A Desert Landscape
The importance of large and small drainages crisscrossing the Plateau is just one aspect of the interrelated ecology and landscaping. Indeed, the intricate patchwork that’s latent throughout this terrain is what makes this province an enigma in some ways. For instance, water is the elixir of the Southwest, especially for the deserts that cover so much of the territory. Hence, it was flowing water that first cut the canyons throughout the Plateau, while the aridity factor keeps chasms from quickly eroding to mere wide spots in the rocky road of time. The same dryness, the so-called desiccation process, is also what makes a desert a desert, which, of course, also means the evaporation rate of moisture is equally important. Then again, it’s the water that makes this region’s deserts look so vastly different compared to, say, the Gobi or Sahara deserts. Water, not wind, is equally the main erosive force throughout the Plateau. The amount of precipitation that falls, including where it falls, is really the determining factor of what life forms will exist.

Another point to make is how water defines the topographical contour of the landscaping. Water is also everywhere, yet it exists in different chemical states. For example, clouds are made from water and refract the sun’s rays that color the sky. Water also creates the sandstone and limestone that accounts for the sedimentary layers throughout much of the Plateau. Yet it’s the dryness that helps preserve the pavement of the sandstone slickrock and roughly hewed limestone. Water in riparian areas keeps the desert landscape green, while dryness keeps it looking wild, and to some people’s way of thinking, hostile or even sterile. Seen in this light, those who realize the inherent water in its many states are more in touch with what makes the Colorado Plateau so distinct and resourceful, not just its consummate beauty.

Colorado Plateau Scenes (The surreal lighting in slot canyons):

And surreal colors:

Invaluable Black Crusted Soil
Apart from the raw beauty of its prized holdings and excessively large frontier, it is nonetheless this kind of paradox that partly makes the Plateau what it is; indeed, why this territory is not only an intriguing tangle of landscape incongruity, but also takes into account the plant, animal, and human history that has evolved here. Many new species of plants and animals devise complex strategies to remain in this sphere of climate and changing atmosphere, and prosper. Yet here are ancient life forms, such as the bacteria that create an important black crust called cyanobacteria, more commonly known as cryptobiotic soil. Cryptobiotic soil is an invaluable stabilizer that abets the fragile ecology of the Plateau. Usually associated with dry clumps of dead grass, it’s actually microscopic cells commonly called blue-green algae (scientifically known as "stromatolites") that first appeared in ancient oceans some 3.5 million years ago. Forest relics throughout the Plateau abound. What we see today may be the remnants of something biologists call Arcto-Tertiary flora, which are ancient belts of forests that extended around the northern hemisphere some 30 million years ago. Such flora, it is thought by scientists, are part of what helped shape the Plateau’s original foundation (before its uplifting and designate as a province). Thus the overall warp from which today’s flora and fauna have been woven. Even the deserts and grasslands have their own complex histories here on the Colorado Plateau.

Colorado Plateau Scenes (Mesmerizing contorted rocks):

Aboriginal People Of The Plateau
Closer to our own timeline is the captivating human history aspect that is recorded in so many places throughout this territory, that is, wherever such evidence has not already been spirited away by the elements of erosion (or by "thieves of time" who wantonly steal such artifacts for resale or for one's private collection). Most of the prehistoric cliff houses, granaries, and village ruins date back to around the 11th Century. There is also archeological evidence that goes back some 13,000 years ago, and probably long before this presumed date (so noted by some cultural scientists––namely, archeologists and anthropologists). The paleolithic tools, archaic hunting places, and accouterments of these ancient people are all confirmed by radiocarbon (C-14) dating. Tree-ring dating, called dendrochronology, also confirms what climatic conditions were like and what these native peoples endured from this telling perspective.

Colorado Plateau Scenes (Archeological ruins):

Through the study of seeds, fibers and pollen, the microscopic wear pattern on lithic tools, as well as ceramic analysis of both pots and sherds, cultural scientists are able to delineate the broader picture of human life throughout the Southwest. The timeline connects from the Paleo-Indian cultural era to the Early, Middle, and late Archaic. From there it connects to the Early to Late Basketmakers, followed by the Ancestral Puebloans (formerly known as the "Anasazi"), then extends to the Pai/Cerbat people. In time, the Pai/Cerbat splintered into three separate tribes, notably the Yavapai, Hualapai (pronounced wal-la-pie) and Havasupai. This protracted record of human life accounts for the most ancient Indian cultures that once flourished throughout the Southwest.

Until around the 12th Century the Colorado Plateau hosted a hodgepodge of native people and their various cultures that continued their respective traditions, but also made great improvements. For example, the cliff house palaces that now adorn national parks, monuments and tribal lands, like Mesa Verde, Betatakin and Keet Seel, Canyon de Chelly, and Walnut Canyon are prime examples of a new way of life and living for a people who once lived in basic wikiups and pit house dwellings. Chaco Canyon and its somewhat enigmatic inhabitants also flourished, and may also be said to be among the most mysterious of all cultural outposts during the high point of Ancestral Puebloan culture.

Colorado Plateau Scenes (kiva ceremonial chamber):

And this site, which is known as an Ancestral Puebloan "false kiva" (Canyonlands National Park). But is it false?

By the 13th Century, the situation for these people drastically and dramatically had change. Here's why: it is thought by most cultural scientists the land and its resources were played out and most of the Ancestral Puebloans vacated the Southwest. Only a relative few tribal people stayed behind, like the Hopis, who occupy North America's oldest continually inhabited village (Oraibi). Mogollon and their cultural relatives, the Mimbres also elected to say, who lived at the farther southeastern tier of the Colorado Plateau. Still, most of the prehistoric people who settled throughout parts of the Plateau for over a thousand years departed, leaving most of their possessions behind. Thus Mesa Verde Indians, Chacoans, Hohokam, Prescott, Sinagua, Cohonina, Little Colorado River, Kayenta, Virgin River, and the Fremont would all disappear for over one hundred years, perhaps even longer, and those who did return waited until well after the 14th Century.

Even then there would be forthcoming new names for the native dwellers who continued to flourish throughout the Southwest, starting with the Hopis, the direct linage connecting them to the Ancestral Puebloans was never broken. Instead, after the Conquistadors arrived in the New World, particularly the Southwest, their designate for the native people was puebloans, a name associated with where these people lived (a Spanish word for "village") and what they did to maintain existence––farming. Thus the overall tribal moniker was adopted by the former Ancestral Puebloan culture, only each of the twenty-one Puebloan nations acquired a different name relative to their respective villages (i.e., Taos, Santa Ana, Isleta, Acoma, and so on).

Colorado Plateau Scenes (kiva interior):

After the great diaspora of the Ancestral Puebloan phase sometime in the late 13th Century, possibly, somewhere after 1287, the new emigrants in a new land––mainly New Mexico––picked up where they left off and never returned. Instead, the so-called Puebloan Era classification continued to renew the lineage by means of innovative changes and improvements. Thus from former hunter-gatherers to an agrarian culture that invented the necessities of their lives, as well as a more sophisticated society relegated to religion, ceremony and tradition.

In The Meantime, The Interlopers Arrive
When interlopers ventured into the Southwest, the “new” Puebloans shared part of their homeland on and off the Plateau. As a capsule summary, the new cultural advance mainly centers on the Navajo (possibly in place in the early 16th Century), as well as various tribes of Apaches, Southern Paiute, Shivwits, Utes and Zuñi Indians (the latter classified as one of the twenty-one Puebloan tribal nations). Some of these tribal people found their settlements in parts of the Colorado Plateau, though preferring the high country or mountainous terrain as opposed to the lower-lying desert terrain staked out (principally) by the Navajo. Except for the Yavapai, who settled in and around the present-day Prescott, Arizona region, the Hualapai and Havasupai stayed close to the Grand Canyon (in the western sector, on the South Rim side), with the Shivwits and Paiutes favored the North Rim country. While the Hualapai wandered about in the rim country, sometimes farming, and sometimes raiding, the Havasupai settled peaceably inside the canyon, where they have sustained their culture by farming and hunting for some 900 years. More recently, they and the Hualapai have turned to commercial tourism for the most sustainable means to economic development.

Colorado Plateau Scenes (Inscription House, Navajo National Monument):

Archaic Clues
Today, we see prolific rock art that tells us something of a story about the people who left their idiosyncratic or straightforward pictoglyphs (paintings) and petroglyphs (pecked or scratched into the rock faces). Split-twig figurines made out of willow tree branches are also found (mainly in canyons) among the pottery and sherds and other artifacts that have lasted over the centuries. So are preserved ancient roasting pits and archaic hunting sites, whose telltale impressions in the ground show where ancient dwellings (i.e., wickiups and pit-houses) once stood. Grinding slabs and stones, called metates and manos, atlatls thrown by Paleo-Indian hunters also abound, as do clubs and axes fashioned from rocks, fiber or animal sinew, and wood.

Prehistoric and historic tribal people from various archeological eras each in their turn have left artifacts and ruins behind as a reminder they were once here in force. Besides the above mentioned artifacts, an excess of arrow points and other lithic tools are scattered throughout the Southwest. The arrow points range in all sizes from the larger Clovis point to the medium-sized Hawken side-notched design, and finally down to the smaller cerbat points. Why the diminished size (of the points)? Because most of the larger animals were systematically killed off, leaving only smaller game to hunt.

Colorado Plateau Scenes (pottery):

When Archaic hunters finally settled down, or those among them who did, they were oriented to an agrarian lifestyle. These, the Ancestral Puebloans, found it necessary to enhance the stingy, and often unpredictable climate of their new homeland, by trapping water sources for makeshift reservoirs, then constructing check-dams to funnel water to their their farms and gardens. The main crops cultivated were the so-called “three sisters” consisting of corn, bean and squash. In some places, and much later in time, cotton fiber was grown.

The resolute and industrious people of the Colorado Plateau (including those who migrated away from the Four Corners after the late 13th Century) had learned how to live in this place of dry water and aridity. Since an unknown span before the Common Era began, they had flourished here in the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands. These, the Ancestral Puebloans, were also the inhabitants who were here the longest and rightfully deemed the Colorado Plateau's original denizens. They were an adept and sustainable culture split into various tribal segments, inhabiting various sectors throughout the Plateau. Mostly, they stayed close to the Four Corners axis, thought spreading out in all directions from present-day Cortez, Colorado. Until the great drought had set in they were indeed the primary and sustainable culture that evolved throughout various eras and varying droughts, each phase denoting a successful cultural record of achievement. In short, these were an innovative and sustainable people. Afterward, one way of life eventually concluded and these former Archaic hunters and hunter-gatherers turned dry farmers had the sense to know when it was time to abandon their settlements and possessions and look elsewhere for a new homeland off the Plateau. And so they did. But they did not vanish into thin in! Instead, the Ancestral Puebloans, like the pre-Columbian Fremont culture who lived in present-day Utah, Nevada, Idaho and Colorado, transformed their long-standing culture as an emerging Puebloan tribal people, and eventually under a new designate.

Colorado Plateau Scenes (Indian country):

The Hopi, whose main tribal unit remained behind in their Hopi Mesa country (near present-day Winslow, Arizona) maintain their homeland and traditional ways. Like the Zuni Indians (living near present-day Gallup, New Mexico), the people from the Hopi Mesas claim their origins are directly traced to the Grand Canyon. Specifically, the Little Colorado River sector on the South Rim side. The Zunis claim Ribbon Falls on the North Rim side. Both tribal people are the only ones to declare the Grand Canyon as a homeland. The Hopis also claim their emergence through the sipapu that symbolizes a sacred portal through which their ancient ancestors first emerged to enter the present world, the so-called Fourth World. The reason this information is mentioned may be theorized why the Hopis decided to stay when most other Ancestral Puebloans sought a new life off the Colorado Plateau's grid, as it were. The Zuni Indians, however, are quiet about their connection to Ribbon Falls.

By the mid-15th Century the Spanish had arrived. Two centuries later the New Americans crossed en masse beyond the 100th Meridian and ventured into the Western territory. The Colorado Plateau, starting from just east of its boundaries (at the end of the Great Plains), could be construed as the main gateway, there in old Santa Fe.

So Begins The Real Transformation Of The Plateau Country! By the late 19th Century, the Plateau was in for its maximum transformation regarding the influx of people. The 20th Century has since produced the greatest amount of change to both the topographical features and the indigenous cultures, whose people have lived here for centuries. Yet for thousands of years the prehistoric people (the Ancestral Puebloans) who lived and settled here brought little change to this region, other than to farm and cull the animal life necessary to eke out an existence. Modern man came for these purposes, too, but also to seriously modify the terrain and try to tame nature wherever and whenever possible. Rivers, like the Colorado, were eventually impeded by dams, and peerless places, like Glen Canyon, were flooded. The story of civilizations is ever changing, yet the motif is nearly all the same: either original dwellers are killed or run off or assimilated.

Colorado Plateau Scenes (the ubiquitous new iron horse):

Most of the severe changes based on technology, control of natural resources, especially water, fossil fuel generating stations, and rampant industrialization, mining, deforestation and oil exploration, came to the Colorado Plateau within the last hundred or so years. Even agriculture has created more than its fair share of ruining the environment and zapping it of nutrients. These evaluative years now upon us denote the most extensive changes to the overall landscape, as well as the highest levels of contaminants fouling the soil, air and water. In some views, the damage has far exceeded a critical meltdown phase. The Southwest is also entirely over populated.There simply isn’t enough water to go around for everyone. The private sector constantly competes with the industrial sector, yet both are vitally dependent on one another. Indeed, it will be a wonder if the next hundred years will see a return to a healthier and sustainable environment in every respect.

Parting shot. . .can you guess the celebrated location?

As always, thoughtful and intelligent commentary is most welcomed.

Rich Holtzin
Albuquerque, NM