Poles … dedicated to Russ
WHAT?? It started to snow as we dropped off of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim at 6000 feet headed down to the Cameron trading post. I began thinking about the AR that my old buddy Russ had given me for our 3 week trip through Arizona and New Mexico. It might have been as we drove down the Umpqua River a couple of weeks before headed to Bandon for some golf. It was just like that old coyote to impose his will on my trip by giving me an AR. More likely it had happened when we had been down in his art studio with Mike Barton looking at his work. Russ specializes in Californian Impressionist fruit paintings in the style of the 17th Century Dutch guys like Franz Hal and Rembrandt although I don’t recall if I’d ever seen pears by old van Rijn. We had started deeply into the red wine and the conversation was spreading out across the canvases and carving tools. “Hey Greeve”, he said, “since you’re going into the high desert in the four corners area can you find out why the artists there are always having poles sticking out of their buildings”?
Just like a Maii” coyote spirit to turn the order of my trip into chaos by tagging me with an assignment!
I guess this is what he meant: (tech note – you can click on each picture and it will open; go back to return to body)
In any case, one had to accept the challenge, particularly when thrown down by the Big Fellah. In retrospect it may not have been a serious challenge – it might have just been a feeble attempt to divert Mike’s attention since we were only about 10 steps from the wine cellar and Mike is a notorious “cellar raider”. In any case I had no choice but to deal with it. So Margo and I were going to be in the neighborhood of the Anazasi and pretty much staying “on the res” for 16 nights and as we made our preliminary approaches I started to look for poles.
This is an example of the type of subject of a typical “Southwestern Painting” might have and how the poles often look in real life.
I kind of knew this had something to do with the Indians in that region. My assignment was to figure out where it came from and why it is such an iconic symbol.
… so on to the investigation:
THE ROUTE: Phoenix has some neat stuff – much of it of course is in Scottsdale. But the Diamondback’s stadium, with mist’rs overhead and a hot tub in the bleachers, keeps it cool; and the desert garden is really fine (although not yet in the class of Huntington Gardens). Possibly the coolest destination in town, if Spring training is not going on and the Lady Sun Devils therefore are keeping their short shorts on campus, is the Heard Museum of the Native People of the Southwest. http://heard.org
So we spent an afternoon there before heading up to the neighborhood of the Havasupai tribe.
– Our first lesson was that this architectural style is called “pueblo” and most of the SW tribes don’t use it;
– The second lesson was that “Anazasi” is no longer the accepted term for this ancient people -and that the proper thing to call them is “HISATSINOM” – OUR ANCIENT PEOPLE (that in itself is an interesting tale). But I will keep calling them Anazasi.
– The third lesson was in the diversity of the various tribes of the Indians of the Southwest. There had been a beaucoup movement there for millennium, even before the Spanish arrived or the US government. So it was important to parse the current land holdings by nation and tribe if you set out looking for “pueblos”.
This is a rough cut of WHO is WHERE —->
Our route was going to head across the middle of the high desert called the Colorado Plateau.– We started near Flagstaff Az. at the Anazasi Wupatki Ruins, north to the South Rim and the Havasupai and Yavapai territory, then continued north on highway US89 that separates the Navajo Res on the west from the Hopi Res on the right.
– We turned east in Tuba City to cross the Hopi Res and stayed a few days at the Hopi Cultural Center then continued until the Hopi Res turned into the Navajo Res. again. (The Navajo’s totally surround the Hopi’s and this is a result of long and bitter wrangling with the US Fed’s. Almost all the land was Anazasi, which Navajo’s did not descend from, and are the ancestral lands of the 20 pueblo tribes (including Hopi & Zuni)).
– We zig-zag’d through the Navajos until we reached Chinle, Az. and the Canyon de Chelly and stayed on the Navajo Nation owned National Monument at a lovely inn (Sacred Canyon) – this is pretty much the middle of the Colorado Plateau region of Arizona and New Mexico.
– Then we continued zigzagging east to New Mexico and a town (Bloomfield) up the road from Chaco Canyon which is also in the Navajo Res
– After two days there we stopped by my friend Greg’s family seat (Blanco), then crossed into the Jacarillo Apache Res and the Sierra Naciamento and San Pedro ranges of the Rockies, into the Rio Grande rift, and down that big river and through the beginnings of the 18 Pueblo Tribal reservations to lovely Santa Fe.
– We finally ended up the 16 days 75% encirclement by driving west from the Rio Grande 40 miles to the Acoma pueblo and its wonderful classical village way up on the mesa.
In Phoenix’s Heard Museum and then a few days later with Micah Loma’omvaya at the Hopi Mesa’s and Larry Blake at Chaco Canyon, we learned a brief overview of who is who as follows:
Anasazi/Hisatsinom: the ancient ancestors of many of the peoples today who live along and between the Pecos, Rio Grande, San Juan, and Colorado Rivers (also roughly the “Colorado Plateau”). They built a powerful nation, eventually centered in Chaco Canyon but spreading in a 60 to hundred mile radius, with an innovative economic model that made them the leaders in all the Southwest. Their early traces go back almost to 200AD, beginning to flower in about 850 AD, and hitting a peak in about 1100-1200 which would be unsurpassed for centuries. The dwellings were abandoned by about 1290AD.
Their magnificent stonework masonry architecture (2 examples here) is as sophisticated as any in Europe and the Mid East given that the Native Americans never developed an arch and have been limited to lintel technology. but, pay attention here Russ…THEY USED POLES!! 🙂
The Pueblos: Once a mystery, now accepted as solved, the Pueblos tribes are certainly the descendants of the Anasazi. In the twelfth century they began to leave Chaco, Mesa Verde, Aztec, and Salmon Ruin Great Pueblos after a killer 47 year drought and headed for the more reliable waters of the Rio Grand. There are 18 Pueblo tribes within a days walk of the Rio Grande and two outliers, the Zuni and the Hopi. We spent a day at the Acoma Pueblo which is a stunning location and has about the best preserved traditional “pueblo style” buildings still in use today; I understand Taos Pueblo is fine as well. Additionally There are lots of poles in such a living museum.
Hopi’s: These folks have a proud national culture reinforced by their remoteness. To be Hopi means to believe in and practice their religion and subscribe to their culture.Some say that they are the purest remaining culture of all the Native North Americans. Their center is around the “Three Mesas” where we spent two nights and had a fine tour by Micah.
The above people all used the “pole” type “pueblo” architecture that Russ was asking about. But we were traveling through other reservations so we were able to find out how other tribal people took different shelter from the storms
Navajo: more properly called the Dine these people speak an Athabaskan language . That is the same linguistic family as many of the Indians of Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon, etc and even some of our Oregon tribes along the Umqua, Rogue and Clatskanie Rivers. This supports the claim of the Hopi and Pueblo that they (the Navajo) are “new coming land grabbers”! These people use the same poles but not in the way of the Pueble/Hopi. Navajo families build “Hogans” laying the logs in a progressively smaller polygonal form, one on top of each other at a 45 degree angle until a cone is made which is the roof structure. This is covered with bark and mud to cover the logs and seal the roof. As they became big sheepherders their now famous blanket weaving made these Hogans comfortable places in winter.
Apaches: we spent a May day driving through the Jacarillo Apache’s beautiful reservation high along the continental divide in a blinding snow . We drove around their lovely school facility at headquarters in Dulce, gassed up and they gave me free coffee because I was a Vet. They have pictures of their Vets in uniform proudly hanging around the ceiling of their fine 7-11 store. I wanted to ask if I could hang mine there.
Their traditional shelter, being originally nomadic people, was the Teepee or the wickiup which is a rough oval shaped shelter made of branches, brush, yuca string, and grass.
Havasupai, Yavapai, and Hualapai: border the western edge of the Colorado Plateau and lived in rough shelters made of branches – lean to’s in summer and closed shelters covered with animal skins, grasses and mud in winter. When you visit the Grand Canyon you are standing in their traditional homeland.
Utes: we never got into their lands but you hear about them a lot. They pretty much occupied the northern border of the traditional Anazasi homelands (mainly Southern Utah) and had a life style much like the Navaho. Semi nomadic, hunter gatherers, with a reputation for raiding parties.
So these were the tribal lands we traversed and stayed in for more than 2 weeks.
OUR EDUCATION: Before addressing Russ’ question I want to mention the four people who gave us in depth, daylong tours. All had good discussions around many examples of the Pueblo architecture as well as the evolution of the Anazasi cultures. In chronological order.
Hopi Mesas. We started here with Micah Loma’omvaya (Bear Clan). He has an MA in Anthropology from U of A Tucson and is a senior member of the Tribal Counsel focusing on the tribes Natural Resources (including Cultural resources). He is a Priest of one of the Hopi’s 4 Sacred Societies and lives at Shongopavi (Spring of Long Grass) village on Second Mesa.
Canyon de Chelly. We had a wonderfully beautiful day driving through the river at the base of this most lovely canyon with Percy Waters-Edge Clan. Percy was born at the mouth of the canyon and grew up at his family farm deep in the Canyon del Muerto branch, surrounded by large cliff dwellings. He is as he says a “Half-breed” being half western European, a quarter Zuni and a quarter Navajo. He was a font of stories and information, and expert on the many pictographs, and was kind enough to sing us navajo songs as we drove through the morning and evening.
Chaco Canyon. This was a 6 hour on site intro class in Anazasi Architecture by a master – Larry Blake, Executive Director for Archeology for the Salmon Ruin Museum which includes one of the most recently discovered Great House Pueblos about 40 miles north of Chaco and 15 miles south of Aztec. (Clan U of Miami Redhawks).
Larry has authored several books on the architecture and has been working there for 40 years. He is a working archeologist with his team doing much reconstruction and stabilization of the pueblos and great houses.
Acoma. We spent an afternoon at this well preserved and living Pueblo and museum, home of the famous white and black pottery. With a very good tour by Maria Garcia we saw how the Acoma people are evolving the architecture while staying true to the cultural heritage. Of the Indian museums we saw this was the best outside of the Heard. With a great collection of pottery including Maria’s grandmothers’ and aunts’.
All of these locations featured the Pueblo architecture (even when on Navajo land like CdChelly and Chaco.
All of these people are available for tours if you decide to go there. If you want to get in touch look at links below or send me an email.
Why did the Anazasi and Pueblo develop the pueblo type architecture while the Navajo, Indian and Ute did not? The answer is a farming culture versus the nomadic hunter gatherer life style.
They say the Anazasi began to build their pueblo’s around 500AD and the terrain and climate was much like today with a bit more rain. The sandy top and more clay like bottom soil allowed them to be “dry land” farmers of corn. In all the pueblo people, corn of all colors is present in their pictographs, weavings, pottery decorations and their folklore tales. Blue, red, purple, white, yellow, black are all treated as an almost sacred totem. Well of course, it is their primary staple food. They grown it today as in yesteryear using a greasewood stick to drive a hole through the sandy top soil – maybe 5-8 inches and into the clay like subsoil which holds the moisture for weeks and months. The Anazasi were proficient in farming and in developing more productive hybrids. Corn originally was one small 1” ear, with only one ear per stalk, and only 4 kernels per ear. SO there was lots of room for improvement and the Anazasi focused on that and built a mercantile empire around it and one other key technology.
When on a day long trip into Canyon de Chelly we gazed at the magnificent Antelope cliff house, Percy our open jeep driver said in response to the question “How did they move all those those rocks there”? … “They didn’t. They built where the rocks had caved in”. Throughout the Colorado Plateau there are massive cliffs made of 85 to 200 million year old sandstone. And much of it is exposed canyon walls carved by water run off of creeks, washes and rivers. Of course where there is this moisture the native americans could grow corn and “voila”, build cliff houses.
The nature of these great talus deposits is that it can be pretty easily shaped using a “score and crack” technique. The result is they could have a very solid, sturdy, non movable living structure, impervious to storms and pretty well insulated if they could figure out how how to build it. Which they did, and, they perfected it to the point that native americans from all over came to learn this second technology.
The key to the Anazasi success: other Native American tribe traders would come from literally hundreds of miles away to bring turquoise, feathers, skins, timber, silver, foodstuffs etc to trade for lessons in corn raising and building technologies.
OK, enough already with the background.
A typical cliff house, great house, or pueblo in the MeseVerde, Canyon de Chelly, Chaco, or Pueblo regions will have the following architecture:
– a pounded dirt floor
– walls built of masonry using the “face and fill” also called “core and veneer” method
– a roof made of wood and mud
…. potentially some insulation
This technology is nothing to sneer at! Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon is a large, “apartment building” which covers three acres (125,000 square feet). There are about 600 actual rooms, and another 150-200 walled spaces (passage ways, small storage areas) which are largely contiguous and surround two large outdoor piazza’s. The rooms are stacked up to four stories, are spacious, cool in summer warm in winter. Estimates are that there were around 800 people living here at its peak. There are public spaces called kiva’s which could be 75 feet in diameter and support roofs of 90 tons. They had motel like rooms for visiting traders and small kiva’s where they could practice their own religious ceremonies. You would not be too uncomfortable here except for running water and smoke from the fires. Tis is what it probably looked like in 1150AD:
And much of the work is and was wonderfully artistic:
I am going to cover two parts of the architecture: The Walls and The Roofs (poles!)
Larry Blake gave us most of this information (which I hope I have right) at Chaco Canyon while spending about 6 hours walking through 5 major building ruin sites ( Una Vide, Hungo Pavi, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo Bonito, and Casa Rinconada).
THE WALLS: The walls are widest on the ground level and get more narrow as they go up. Given three to four stories of living rooms, which tend to be 10 to 15 feet high, walls of 60 feet tall are not uncommon. Therefore widths at ground level are up to three feet wide or more.
There is no foundation in the modern sense – the ground level is merely started on solid rock or historically packed dirt.
The core or fill from our observations can be just about any mix of large or small stones and dirt. Just throw in it and pack it.
The veneer is where the magic happens. It is made from shaped rocks of the local sandstone. and varies in color but tends in Chaco to tend from light beige towards reddish brown. The size of the rocks used is one of the main variables in classifying the wall veneer style. The load bearing veneer rocks can be ROUGHLY large (~ 6”x6”x1’ rectangular blocks for example) or ROUGHLY smaller (~ 1”x5”x6” flat stones for example). The mortar tended to be nothing more than a mud from the local dirt mixed with water. Small chinking stones can be used and when finished present a beautiful pattern.
The archeologists have classified the veneer, with some minor disagreements, into 5 or 6 types.
The simplest wall styles are either the large stone blocks set in semi-regular courses (Type 6) or uncovered crude smaller flat stones of variable size – sometimes with a thick coping of mud plaster (Type 1). You should go to Chaco and have the archeologist show you. Here is one approach:
Here is a primitive example of the older type 1 (uncoursed, crude masonry variable stone size). You can see it is not that sophisticated but took a lot of effort:
Remembering that these walls were made with only stone tools, here are four beautiful examples of what evolved over the centuries. One can only gaze in awe at the refinement and beauty.
Type 3: chinking at Casa Rinconada kiva
Type 5: “all smaller stones horizontal courses lots of chinking” (Pueblo Bonito)This puts it all together. Margo and me in the vestibule at Casa Rinconada showing Type 3, with and without chinking and Type 2. Doorway seems small but the floor has filled over the ages.
In all our meandering through the villages of the Hopi and Pueblo we saw no veneer as refined as this. Most of what we saw was Type 6.
The walls were generally covered with a mud plaster. Some students believe the outside walls of the great houses were then painted in bright, strong colors and would present a “glorious sight” to the far flung tribes that would come to trade with the Anazasi. This was all part of their mercantile strategy.
By the way, in some cases the walls can be somewhat insulated inside either with rushes, ( brought as trade goods) or twigs and bark strip covered with plaster.
THE POLES: So the tops of the walls is where the poles that support the roof are used and this is the typical placement that prompted Russ’ question – roof support beams. The same poles are also used to build a floor system for upper stories.
Here is a simple drawing of the construction of the roof of an Anazasi (or today’s Pueblo) building.
Note there are two sizes of poles.
1. The primary beams are called “viga” and vary from 6” to 15” diameter
2. the cross beams that go on top are called “latilla” and typically are 3” to 5”
For a roof the “viga” sit on the flat top of the wall. It might be somewhat notched with a stone tool or perhaps the wall has a slight indentation for stability.
If the structure is for a floor/ceiling the poles will be put into sockets carved into the walls.
The viga and latilla tend to be the trunks and bigger branches of either Ponderosa Pine or Pinyon Pine.
The smaller thin branches, twigs, and bark are then laid on the latilla in a sturdy mass and finally covered with dirt and mud plaster.
The Anazasi used over 300,000 trees in building Chaco. The were brought from the Chuska Mountain Range about 50 miles west. Without metal axes it must have been quite a workout. Margo and I drove through that range with The Eagles “Take it Easy” cranked up on the Toyota rental – Winslow Arizona was about 60 miles south.
Here are some pictures of the oldest intact original roof of this construction in the world. It is 800-900 years old at Pueblo Bonito. You can clearly see the structure.
So what’s my answer to Russ’s question: “Why do the southwest artists always having poles sticking out of their buildings”?
It might be “it makes a pretty picture”
But, I guess the “Pueblo” architecture is iconic of the southwest not only because it is pleasing to the eye.
If you live or travel in the lands where the Anazasi have lived you can’t help but develop a thirst to see more and learn more about their thousands of year old history, and how it has led to the culture of the pueblo dwellers today. You also have to go into the canyons and deserts at dawn and twilight and bask in the explosion of form and color and marvel at man’s adaptiveness and creativeness.
And you start to like the local Native Americans’ creative art as well – the pottery and baskets, weavings and jewelry, beadwork and carvings, the dancing and the costumes.
And you hear the stories and see the petroglyphs.
And you go and sit before Pueblo Bonito, or Chetro Ketl, or White House or Acoma mesa and touch their veneer or climb through their doors and passages and marvel at what they did and how lucky you are to actually see it.
And then you spend a few days hanging around Santa Fe and realize the architecture of this city has been crafted in homage to Hisatsinom – Our Ancient People. And you decide you want to sit by the animal fountain at the Santa Fe Catherdal of St Francis or on a rock on the floor of Canyon de Chelly and draw or paint their most lasting contribution and their most clever technology and there you have it:
Pinyon pine poles holding up roofs and ceilings on top of “veneer and core” stone and mud plaster walls arguably represent the pinnacle of man’s achievement (the Chaco complex) in the United States since the beginning of time until the the late 17th Century.