Joan and I love to read maps and travel on foot. It allows us to put together the flow of the land and how people may have traveled in the past. When you walk on foot and observe what’s around, you see the interconnectedness of the landscape. The mesa above we went to weeks ago flows into this drainage; that canyon leads to the ancestral dwellings we hiked to before.
This past weekend spent below Cedar Mesa and near the San Juan river proved no different.
A trail near our campsite leads to the San Juan River (itself a travel path between canyons and people), and the “trailless” route near where we camped had many images below Cedar Mesa.
We could see a break in the cliff that leads up to the mesa itself. And the images along the way indicate people have used these trails for generations.
One particular panel seemed directly in line with the cliff break itself and in line with a path that dropped to the San Juan River. And represented people of both genders. As always, we don’t know what the images mean to convey. But we can admire the images themselves.
Our quiet campsite found us at the end of a jeep road with cliffs jutting above that seemed to soak up the sunlight.
And the sunrise and sunset views proved without peer. We could see Monument Valley in the distance and received a light show par excellence.
Our hike the following day found us on an older wagon route on the Emigrant Trail (aka the “Hole in the Rock Trail”). This trail, I have no doubt, followed a much older path based on dwellings and images found along the way.
The canyon route took us to the gently flowing San Juan River and a central panel with many images well over 1000 yrs old in many cases.
At such a prominent place, the images, no doubt, served several purposes.
Some may have represented the river, for example:
Any answer from someone like myself is merely conjecture. But one panel did not leave too much doubt of the relatively recent vintage of both the images and what they represented:
The San Juan River connected many of the communities as much as the canyon bottoms and other travel paths.
On the Colorado Plateau, calling something “off-trail” is a bit of a misnomer. There are only so many non-technical routes through, by, into, and out of the canyons. If the path looks good on the map, people have more than likely traveled it long before we have. And the images, lithics, dwellings, and other indications only confirm these thoughts.
We are not off-trail; we are merely following the apparent routes that people traveled generations before.