Joshua Tree again

Joshua Tree National Park protects a unique environment where two environments meet. The Joshua Trees grow in the high desert of the Mojave. As you go downhill, you get into the Colorado Desert biome. The Colorado is a subset of the the Sonora Desert, but it lacks the iconic saguaro cactus, which is kind of a big deal, IMO.

The dominant thing here is creosote bush, also known as chaparral. This bush does not play fair. It emits a kind of toxin that inhibits the growth of other places, resulting in widely spaced bushes, each able to get enough water. They look like somebody has planted them in regular rows.

Another common plant in the Sonoran Desert is the cholla cactus. My cousin Carl Hankwitz warned me about them. If you get near, they stick into you. They call it the jumping bush because it seems to jump on you and hold you down.

Joshua Tree was going to be shut down because of the shutdown, but they opened today with volunteers and money from entrance fees paid voluntarily. There was some vandalism a couple days ago. I have trouble understanding the malice that goes into destroying nature. The logic of keeping it open was that visitors would help avoid vandalism by at least providing witnesses to disapprove.

We first visited the park in 2010. I was at Camp Pendleton for a Marine training exercise and Chrissy came after. I rented a car, but it was a piece of crap, so I took it back before CJ arrived. They had a convertible, so we traded up. Since that time, we have really enjoyed convertibles. I don’t think it is worth it to own, but renting once a year it is nice to have. It was not really warm enough to drive with the top down, but we did it anyway, using the heater to make it okay. You really see a lot more.

Joshua trees form a kind of savanna. The little ones look like longleaf pine in the bottle brush phase, as you can see by the second photo. Photo #3 is just a nice sunrise photo. #4 shows me close the the cholla cactus. I did not touch. Last is ocotillo. It is a deciduous tree, but not dependent on season. Instead, it is rain dependent. After it rains, the leaves come out. This can happen five times a year.

A very eventful day. We went to Joshua Tree National Park and visited Palm Springs. I will write about such things soon, but let me start with the usual beer pictures.
We went to Babe’s Bar-B-Que & Brewhouse for pulled pork and beer.

I don’t think pigs & beer get the credit they deserve for the advance of civilization. Recent scholarship indicates that beer came before bread in the use of grain. It is an excellent way to preserve the otherwise perishable product and provide carbohydrates into the future. Pigs are one of the world’s most efficient protein machines, and they recycle superbly. They grow fast and they can subsist on garbage that would otherwise just be wasted. Peasants could feed the pigs the slop they no longer wanted to eat and shortly harvest a bonanza of pork products.

I believe it is true that w/o pigs and beer, Western Civilization never would have broken free from the cycle of subsistence.

So let’s toast the wonderful pig with a flight of beer.

We had two sets of beer today. The first group is at Babe’s. The other two are from lunch at an Italian place in Palm Desert. I am not leaning sideways because I am drunk, but rather because Chrissy need me to lean out of the light.

Last Day in Albuquerque

We finished our tree farm national leadership council and will be home soon. Chrissy and I did a last lunch and beer in Albuquerque. Wonderful weather. We had some drinks at La Hacienda in old down and visited the Natural History Museum.

BTW – the beer I am drinking is not really Bud Light. Who would drink that? The beer is Santa Fe IPA, a local brew.

New Mexico has a unique and diverse environment. It is rich in natural communities and geology. A docent at the museum told us that New Mexico is still a volcanic zone, although they don’t expect eruptions anytime soon. The geology is conductive to finding fossils. This is the kind of place Alex Matel would have loved. I thought of him as I posed next to the dinosaur.

“Breaking Bad,” one of CJ’s favorite TV shows, was set around Albuquerque. They take advantage of that moment of fame, as you can see in the second last picture. Last is about the largest mass extinction. All life on earth was nearly extinguished.

La Jornada

You don’t have to go into the Albuquerque Art Museum to enjoy its holdings. A sculpture garden surrounds the building. Most interesting for me was La Jornada.

It depicts the journey of Spanish pioneers coming to New Mexico in 1598. It is very reminiscent of American pioneers moving west with a few big differences. The most obvious was the time. 1598 – that was nine years before Jamestown and twenty-two years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Another difference was the organization of the colonization. The Spanish effort was centrally directed, although financed mostly privately, and it seemed to be well-equipped. American pioneers were usually people just moving on their own, sometimes in defiance of the central authorities.

You can see what the statues look like in the photos. It is big. In addition are plaques containing the names of the colonists and origins of the colonists. Most came directly from Spain or Portugal, but others came from Mexico. Many of their descendants still live in New Mexico.

I was broadly aware of this interesting history, but visiting New Mexico has given me a lot better appreciation for the extent of the settlement.

My first two picture show the sculpture. Next is the story of the jornada. The last two are unrelated. Number 4 is St Francis and the last one is Geoffrey and Rothco. I think Rothco is the dog, but the plaque did not specify.

Walkabout in Albuquerque

Chrissy and I went walkabout in Albuquerque old town this morning. It does not cover very much territory & not much was open in the morning. We had breakfast at Monica El Portal. It was good basic food. I had huevos rancheros; Chrissy had a breakfast taco.

The next picture shows Chrissy at the gate to old town and next at the statue at the end of old town and me with on of the statues at the art museum. Last is the restaurant where we had supper. The big moon is lighting the way.

Valle Grande

Valle Grande is a big grassy valley in remains of a caldera of a super volcano. You can see various views in my first three pictures. The last picture is Frijoles Canyon taken from one of the Pueblo dwelling in the cliff. See my earlier posts re.

Visiting the Pueblo ruins at Bandelier National Monument. I always enjoy seeing the remains of the past. It is interesting what people could do with simple tools. But you wouldn’t want to live in these places. The little cave in the picture was interesting, but then I thought about really living there.

Pre-literate, prehistoric societies are fragile. Oral history is always unreliable. (Well,so is written history, but at least you have a reference.) We sometimes overlook one of the biggest problems with lack of literacy. That is, things get lost.

One generation might develop wonderful skills or knowledge, but if nobody transmits it to the next generation, it is lost forever. Nobody can find the old text and create a renaissance.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and if a link is missing, there is no chain.

A study of history at Bandelier National Monument

“We live in a continuum that began when we emerged from the earth and continues with our descendants. That is why time has no boundaries for us & why it is so irrelevant. We are not here to make history. We are here to live and continue history.” This is from the Affiliated Pueblo Committee and sums up their view of history. I read it at the museum at the Bandolier National Monument.

I studied history and anthropology in college and especially enjoyed the classes on theories of history. We contrasted cyclical theories of history, where history repeated in great circles to a progressive theory of history, where history was moving forward. The latter implied a beginning and an end, while the former just churned. The progressive view of history tended to be favored by adherents of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), since they were informed by their faiths that God created the heavens & the earth at a specific time in history, that at least some humans had duties and tasks to perform and that history was moving toward an end and a day of judgement. The ancient Greek historians were examples of believers in cyclical historical theories.

All Western historians, however, shared the idea of change and development, whether or not they thought there was progress toward an end. In fact, one of the definitions of history was that it was written by historians who analyzed trends and change. Absent this, we might have antiquarianism or chronicles that just recorded events, one darn thing after another. That is why we called Herodotus the “father of history.” Others had written before he did, but they did not look for patterns, trends or change.

Our history theory classes back in the 1970s were still very Western-centric. We did not consider Chinese, Indian or other perceptions of history. Had we done that, I don’t think we would have found them that surprising. My subsequent study of history indicates that Chinese history theory, for example, would fit mostly into the cyclical pattern, with good times followed by bad and the mandate of heaven falling moving but not changing. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but what I see I can fit into my earlier studies.

Very different would be the theory of history outlined in the Pueblo theory above. It is not a progression view of history or even a change one. Rather it is a kind of steady state, timelessness.

I mentioned that I studied history AND anthropology. One of the books assigned in anthropology was called “Language Thought & Reality” by Benjamin Lee Whorf. Whorf postulated that structure of language influenced perceptions of reality. Some scholars think this idea has been debunked and others think the debunkers have been debunked. I don’t know about that, but I do recall that he used the Hopi language as an example. He said that the structure of the Hopi language made it much easier to view time as a continuum. Western languages, on the other hand, were structured with various past and future tenses. Maybe that influenced our view of history as having a past and a likely future and featuring changed

The Pueblo idea made me think about this. I can see value in this way of thinking, but also many drawbacks. It is contemplative and that is good.

I have been thinking about the Pueblo settlements, as I visited some of the ancient sites. Yesterday went to the Pecos villages. Today we visited the ruins of villages of Ancestral Pueblo people who built homes in Frijoles Canyon at the Bandolier National Monument. They lived in the canyon for around 400 years until they exhausted the resources and abandoned the land by about 1550.

My first picture shows Chrissy with a piece of Tuff. That is compressed volcanic ash that the ancestral Pueblo used for building material. The other pictures show runs and the hills of tuff at the Bandolier National Monument.

Ponderosa Pine in New Mexico

Ponderosa pine is certainly one of my favorite ecosystems. It can and sometimes does grow in lowlands, but it dominates the “montane” ecosystem, in this part of New Mexico from elevations of around 7000 feet to about 8000 feet above sea level.

It is a semi-dry ecology that tends to burn. Before European settlement, ponderosa pine forests burned every 5-15 years. These were usually low intensity fires that cleared up the brush and thinned the forest but did not harm to the big trees. This changed when settlers cut trees and then excluded fire. The ponderosa pine grew back much thicker than before. Where there previously were as few as 20 big trees per acre, there were now 600-700 little trees too close together. Fire was excluded as much as possible, but when it inevitably did come, it came hot because of all the fuel and the tight forest. The fires were hot enough to kill mature trees.

This is where we find ourselves now. Our forests are too thick and too prone to disastrous fire because we have refused to thin properly and tried to exclude fire for 100 years. It is not easy just to change these old policies. We run risks during the changeover. One of the most destructive fires in the Bandelier NM (where we were travelling) was the Cerro Grande fire in 2000. This was set by the Forest Service trying to set a prescribed fire.

The guys who did it were acting responsibly and with the best science available, but they took the blame. One reason why fire professionals call the fires they set “prescribed” and not “controlled burn,” as some outsiders do, is because they know that no fire is ever 100% controlled. It takes courage to do the right thing. If things go wrong, you will get all the blame. If things go right, you will get none of the credit. It is well worth the risk from ecological and economic point of view. I would compare it to an operation. In my example, if you do nothing you have a 95% chance of death and a 5% chance of survival. With the operation you have a 95% survival chance to live and a 5% chance of death. You would take that risk, right? But that 5%.

Fire cannot be avoided. Forests will burn. We can do our best to choose the time and place where destruction will be minimized and where ecological benefits will be greatest. If we do nothing, we still get fires, but we almost always get them at the worst and most dangerous times, since those are the times of greatest fire activity, and the ecology will be harmed by the hot fires.

My pictures are from the Bandelier National Monument. My first photo is me in front of the sign talking about the need for diversity in the ecosystems. Next are some big ponderosa pines. You can tell an old tree not only by its size but also the color of the bark. Young trees have dark bark. When they get to be 100+ they start having a orange-yellow bark. In the third picture, you can see the black marks from a fire, probably the 2011 Las Conchas fire. The big trees were unharmed by the fire, but it cleaned out the brush. After that show when a very hot fire goes through. I think that is aftermath of the disastrous Cerra Grande fire of 2000. This is so different from Virginia. After 17 years, we would have profuse growth, even from a hot fire like that. We get a lot more rain. The last picture are spruce with a few ponderosa pine at higher altitude. Spruce are not adapted to frequent fires the way ponderosa are.

Along the Road in New Mexico

It is fun to stop at the roadside markers. You find some interesting things that were just overlooked.

My first picture show a monument to Glorietta Pass Battle during the Civil War. It was not a big battle in terms of men involved or casualties, but it was the decisive battle that stopped the Confederate effort to cut off the Southwest. We don’t think of the Southwest when we think of the Civil War. I was vaguely aware of the fight. My colleague Steve Holgate had an ancestor involved in the it.

The next monument is to the Mormon Battalion, the only religiously based unit in United States military history. They fought mostly in California during the Mexican War. I had never heard of this before. The plaque describing the movement of the battalion has been vandalized. Somebody evidently objected to the use of the term “savage.”

The second last picture announces the Pecos monument and last is a panorama from the Pecos monument.

Walking around Santa Fe

Walking around Santa Fe, we went past the cathedral. They have lots of statues and monuments that reflect the history.

One that I thought really interesting is pictured below. It commemorates the arrival of the Spanish and shows some of the things they introduced, so the monument is based on introduced animals such as pigs, horses, sheep, cows & donkeys. Above them are some of the crops and fruits. They also have books to represent literacy.

You could take this monument in a couple ways. You could see it as the gift of the Spanish, as I think it is intended, or you could see it as the invasion of the Spanish and all their plants and animals.

I recall a really good book – “1493” by Charles C Mann. He talked about the vast ecological change wrought by Old World flora and fauna introduced to the Americas, among them the plants and animals depicted. I doubt that those Pueblo folks, that I wrote about in an earlier post, would have viewed the coming of the Spanish as an unalloyed blessing.

My first two pictures show the monument. Next is the cathedral. To fill out this set of pictures, I have included a couple pictures from the Pecos. The first is Chrissy at the ladder of a restored kiva. Kiva were underground ceremonial rooms at Pueblo sites. The other photo, not very clear, is Sandoval Street in Santa Fe. I took it in honor of Lisa K J Sandoval & Christiana Sandoval. I assume the street is named after them and their family.

Pecos Pueblo

The Pecos were a Pueblo people, like those whose dwellings Alex and I visited at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde. Unlike the settlements in those other two places, the Pecos villages survived on this site into historical times, i.e. the arrival of the Spanish. The site was finally abandoned sometime in the beginning of the 19th Century as the result of raids and depredations by the Comanche. Scholars are not exactly sure when that happened, but they know that when U.S. troops passed through the area during the Mexican War, the place was unoccupied.

The Pecos is a good natural site. Ecologically, it lies at the meeting point of mountains and forests, grasslands and a rich river environment. It is also on natural trade routes. Native American routes, the Santa Fe Trail, Route 66 and today Interstate 25 all pass through the area. All this provided the variety of resources that allowed the people to prosper for centuries.

Beyond all that, it is a naturally beautiful place, as my pictures show.

Most of the Pueblo site is out of sight, although archeologists have a lot to say about it. The big building is the ruin of the church the Spanish built.