Thursday, June 28, 2007

Car Made It!

We got our car back today, though not in quite as good shape as when we sent it off. It looks like they either scraped against concrete on the back side or it was rubbing against the shipping container. It is rubbed down to the metal and will have to be repainted and have a new bumper. But it is fine mechanically and most importantly, it is NOT at the bottom of the Atlantic! You count your blessings where you can!

Poor scratched car!

Our HHE is here in DC (also not in the ocean...yay!), and we have it scheduled to be delivered next week. So insha'allah, we will have all our stuff here soon.

Now we just have to get tags for the car, but that will have to wait until Saturday when M is off. I got it inspected today, but I don't dare even get a car wash (and boy does it need it...we got a dust storm in Jerusalem after the last time I washed it there!) until we get plates!

Monday, June 25, 2007


One of the things I like about my new schedule is occassional weekdays off. Today was the first of those, and I got a lot accomplished. I was able to go to the DMV to renew my tags (though oddly, it was STILL crowded even though I went well before lunch) and was able to buy screws for my plates, a fire extinguisher, and a battery for the cordless phone.

But the biggest thing I did was get the office straightened out. I had put all of the book boxes in the closet, thinking it would be better to unpack the books once the rest of the books get here. I know we had our favorite, or at least most often used, books in Jerusalem. And I wanted to make sure we had space for them. Of course, we have several bookshelves in our HHE plus three new ones downstairs, and we will need the closet empty so we have room for the boxes when the HHE gets here. So today I dragged one of the older bookshelves upstairs and unpacked a bunch of boxes of books. At least nine I think. They were mostly my archaeology books that I had not deemed urgent for work on my dissertation exams, which is why they were put in storage. But I had forgotten how many really good books I have! And I love books...really, really love them. I don't think a house is a home without books. So now our home feels better, because there are books on the shelves!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

New Beginnings

I've been remiss in writing. I kept meaning to talk about the trip to the Grand Canyon and then forgetting, being too tired, etc...

Anyway, the trip was awesome. The views are astounding and we were able to watch the sunset over the canyon (with a few hundred of our closest friends!). The whole trip was definitely what we both needed after our tour in Jerusalem.

Sunset at Yavapie Point

After our break (who knew 5 weeks could go so fast!), we are beginning new jobs in the department. So far, we both really like them. I am working in the bureau of Intelligence and Research (I could tell you what I do but then I'd have to kill you!) and M is on the Russia desk. For M, I think she is enjoying being back in her element since she specializes in the former Soviet Union. For me, I think the shifts will be hard, but it seems like morale in the office is excellent and the work is interesting. Unfortunately, the guy who recruited me for the office had his last day on Friday (everyone there adores him...he seems to be the usual combination of competent AND a decent human being!). The new guy was there last week training, and it seems like he is going to be good as well. I hear good things about him, and the PDAS said they vetted him heavily because they wanted someone who would keep the morale Ed built high. So I am cautiously optimistic.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying being home. Cayenne seems to like her new digs, and the other pets seem to really like the new furniture. I am finally getting things sorted out enough to be able to have the HHE delivered, should it ever arrive! Nearly every day I wish for something that is in it, like carpets and paintings to decorate the house, the special parmisan cheese grater, or the ironing board. Oh well, soon, insha'allah.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Together At Last

Cayenne, our African Grey parrot, passed the most important test of her life on Wednesday. It was the one given at the quarantine facility to determine if she had contracted bird flu while in Jerusalem.

She hadn't. Not that I was worried, but still. Having to get a bazillion forms of permission to get her back into the country left me less than confident that I would succeed in bringing her home.

And so I was able to go pick her up from JFK today. I'm exhausted from the whole ordeal, and not just today's part. But the important thing is that she is home, and so now our family (me, M, Noostie the border collie, Koshka and Pishik, the cats, and Cayenne) is all together in one place again! I can't tell you how happy that makes me.

I still need to write about our trip to the Grand Canyon and then out to Kansas. I will say for now that the jet-skiing and inter-tubing behind the boat were a blast!

Cayenne...the collar keeps her from picking herself

Friday, June 08, 2007

Canyon de Chelly

The winds died down and Canyon de Chelly re-opened. To go into the Canyon, you either have to buy tickets on one of the jeep tours led by a Navajo guide or have an SUV and hire a certified Navajo guide. We went for option one and took a jeep tour, since our SUV is on a slow boat from Israel.

We toured the canyon in an open-topped jeep with about ten other people. The canyon is full of petroglyphs and pictographs, as well as Anasazi ruins and Navajo homes and hogans.

Me and M at White House ruins

We also saw the site of the Navajo Fortress rock, a large butte where 300 Navajo held out against Kitt Carson for 3 months.

Navajo Fortress rock

The day ended on a sad note for me. My grandmother, my dad's mother, passed away this morning. She was 81 years old and had been blessed with seven children, twelve grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren who adored her. She and my grandfather got married a month after they met, were married more than 50 years before he passed away a few years ago and they loved each other very much. I know she is at peace and happy to join Granddaddy. But she will be terribly missed.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Monument Valley

Today we went to Monument Valley Tribal Park, which is located on the Navajo Reservation and straddles the Utah/Arizona border. We had planned to hike around the park, but the wind today was awful, making the area rival any of Jerusalem's sandstorms. In fact, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced de Shay) was closed today because the wind took out some trees. We are supposed to go there tomorrow. Hopefully it will be open.

So since the weather was too bad for hiking, we took the self-guided driving tour instead. Not as much exercise, but we still got to see some amazing views.

The road to Monument Valley

Monument Valley

Oh yeah, and today, we ran into a family of four Hebrew speakers, bringing the total I have run into in four days to eight. What gives? Did everyone follow me when I left? :)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Mesa Verde Pt. II

After the tour, we had lunch at the park restaurant and then walked down to the Spruce Tree House. This is the third-largest dwelling in the park (Cliff Palace and Balcony House are first and second), and honestly, the hike down was much more strenuous than the Cliff Palace. I found ladders much easier than the incline. Like Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House was occupied from about 1200 to 1276. It had 114 rooms, eight kivas and housed about 100 people.

Spruce Tree House

M at Spruce Tree House

Some of the park's archaeologists were mapping the walls there, examining differences in construction techniques over time. There is a re-constructed kiva there that you can actually climb down into (it was by the kiva that I spotted the Hebrew-speaking couple).

Inside the Kiva

We finished by taking the Mesa Top loop. The road offers views of dozens of sites, including Cliff Palace. From the Sun Point overlook, I was able to spot at least seven different pueblos, including Cliff Palace, as well as the Sun Temple on top of the Mesa.

Oak House from the Mesa Top Loop

We are spending the evening in Bluff, Utah, population 320. It was established in 1880 by Mormons looking to colonize the Four Corners area and establish relations with the Navajo and Ute Indians. In town, the remnants of their original village can still be seen. There are several small independent motels here, though I am not sure why, and ours even has wireless internet access. From here, we will head to Monument Valley.

Historic Bluff, Utah

Mesa Verde

Okay, I am beginning to think I am being stalked. I mean seriously, Israel is a country of maybe 7 million people. What are the odds that I would run into two different Hebrew-speaking couples in three days about as far from Israel as I could possibly get? In fact, out in the middle of the desert in Arizona and Colorado? In their defense, neither couple seemed to notice me, but I am certain it is part of a plot to send me back to Jerusalem.

Anyway, we got up early this morning so we could head to Mesa Verde. Future Farmers of America was having a convention in Cortez, Colorado, and we feared that Mesa Verde would be filled with noisy high schoolers as a result (a fear founded in part by overhearing a chaperone at the restaurant where we had dinner last night saying she was taking a group out there). There were some teenagers at the welcome center when we got there, and as feared, they were pretty loud, but luckily we soon lost them.

The park is huge, and even the welcome center is 15 miles from the entrance! Two-thirds of the park have burned since 1989, so sadly much of the drive in is a combination of beautiful views and dead trees. I imagine the park was amazing before the fires, because it is still pretty amazing now. The highest point in the park has an elevation of well over 8000 feet!

Elevation sign at Park Point

By the time we arrived, all of the tickets for the first two tours of the Cliff Palace had been sold, so we go tickets to the 11:30 tour. The tour was described as "strenuous," which made us a bit nervous, but we went for it anyway. (A tour of the Balcony House was described as "adventurous, complete with a 12 ft tunnel to crawl through and a 60 ft. open face rock to climb...we opted to skip that one!). Since we had an hour to kill, we headed to the Chapin Mesa Museum.

From there, we went to Cliff Palace. The tour was not nearly as strenuous as we feared, just a few ladders to climb and a steep incline (you get more winded in the high altitude). And was it ever worth it! Cliff Palace, with more than 150 rooms and 23 kivas, was begun around 1210 AD, though the area was occupied by the Ancient Puebloans long before that. Construction was largely completed within 20 years. Only about 120 people lived there, and it is speculated that it was an administrative and religious center. No one knows why they suddenly began building above-ground structures to replace the semi-subterranian pithouses they lived in for centuries. What is known is that they didn't live in the Cliff Palace or similar dwellings for long, only until about 1300 AD. While there was a drought that began in 1276 AD and lasted until 1300, the guide told us that the site was never reoccupied and that it was only "discovered" by ranchers in the 1800s. That makes me think there was more to it than just the drought. At any rate, the palace is breath-taking.

View From Above Cliff Palace

Inside Cliff Palace

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Chaco Canyon

I first heard about Chaco Canyon in I think 1994, when I was working for the Charleston Post Courier. My editor there told me about Chaco and jokingly told me I was never allowed to go because I wouldn't come back. Thirteen years later, I finally got the chance to see the place, and he was certainly not exaggerating.

Chaco Canyon National Park actually represents just a portion of the sites of the Chaco culture, with literally dozens of Chacoan Great Houses, which are large pre-planned multi-storied public buildings with distinctive masonry, formal earthen architecture and a Great Kiva, in the surrounding area. There are at least twelve Great Houses within the park, the largest of which is Pueblo Bonito.

We started out at Una Vida, which is located right behind the visitors' center. It was named by Lt. James Simpson during a military expedition to Navajo lands in 1849. Construction began at Una Vida in 850 AD and continued for more than 250 years, concurrent with construction at the other sites in the canyon. It has not had much excavation, and is pretty much a natural state of preservation.

Me on the slope above Una Vida with Fajada Butte in the distance

Next we visited the ruins at Hungo Pavi and then headed to Chetro Ketl. This is one of the larger Chacoan structures with a massive Great Kiva.It had about 500 rooms and 16 kivas, and underwent a major, 30-year construction phase around 1020.

The Great Kiva at Chetro Ketl

We finished the trip with a guided tour of Pueblo Bonito, the center of Chacoan culture and the largest of the Great Houses at more than 600 rooms and 40 kivas. Our guide told us that more than 85 percent of the site is original, with only about 15 percent having to be reconstructed. There is still wood that once formed roof beams there (desert archaeology makes me really jealous...the stuff that preserves in the dry climate makes the stuff we are able to recover in the Southeast seem sad!). In one room, the roof is still completely intact, including the straw covering! The Great Kiva there is massive, and even the smaller kivas are pretty impressive. Most of the rooms, however, had no ventilation and were therefore unihabitable. I wonder whether it was an administrative center and the inner rooms were used primarily for the storage of goods for use in the future. Of course, what can be known there is limited because when the place was excavated in the 1920s, none of the more than 100 thousand TONS of fill was sifted. In fact, it was dumped in a nearby wash, so all of the information was literally washed away. Today, we could have searched for the tiniest of seeds to see what was in the rooms. Sad.

One funny thing happened while we were waiting for the tour to begin. M was coming out of the restroom right as a little chipmonk ran out of the bushes. It saw her, and went to run away as she whispered to me to look. Just then, it turned around and ran towards her. She said, "It's charging me. Do you think it is rabid?" It stopped and staired at her, less than 3 feet from her. I said, "No, it thinks you have food." In fact, I am pretty certain I heard it demand, "Where's my cookie?" M didn't have any food to offer, so it turned and left.

By the end of the Pueblo Bonito tour, we were too tired to visit the rest of the ruins there. I can certainly see needing to stay for a while to see it all. One trail alone is 7 miles long and has lots of ruins to explore. But neither of us were up for that after a few days hiking in the desert heat! And we needed to save some energy for tomorrow's trip to Mesa Verde!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Oldest Occupied Community in America

We are having an awesome time on the trip. We are currently just outside of Albuquerque. Today we went to Acoma, the longest continuously occupied town in North America (since at least 650 A.D.). The town is still inhabited by the Acoma Pueblo people and is located on their reservation. They control the tourism there and they give great tours. Our tour guide was an older guy named Gary, a Vietnam Vet who lives on the mesa. He told us about the history of the place and in particular, of the abuses the Acoma people suffered at the hands of the Spanish. Particularly egregious is the history of the church there, which was built on top of the Great Kiva and ceremonial grounds by the forced labor of the Acoma. Those who died building it were interred in the walls of the church. Then when it was completed, the priest said they had to have a bell, and forced them to pay for the bell with four boys and four girls. There is a cemetery just outside the church, and there is a hole in the base of the wall to allow the spirits of the children, and 60 women who were seized after the Pueblo revolt, to return to the mesa. Many of the Acoma are accomlished potters, and so we bought a really nice seed pot with lizards on it. I saw another pot with bear paws on it, but it cost more money than I had on me in cash, and there are no ATMs or credit card machines on the Mesa! I did get the artists card, so I may send him a check and have him mail the pot to me. We also got a beautiful Pendleton blanket with a picture of Acoma on it, which M got me as as an early birthday present.

Acoma Pueblo with the church in the distance

After Acoma, we headed to the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque and hiked up some hills covered with volcanic rock and petroglyphs. The mesa here was created by six volcanic eruptions about 130,000 years ago. The volcanoes are extinct, but as you drive toward the area, the fields along the interstate look like plowed up asphault from the eruptions. The petoglyphs at this site date to as old as 3000 years ago, though most are in the Rio Grande style, which developed around 1300 AD and continued until the end of the 1600s.

Petroglyph National Park

We finished up the day at the Pueblo Indian Culture Center and Museum. That museum is exactly what I wish the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian had been, the tribes' history told their way. It was very much about "this is who we are," whereas the Museum of the American Indian seems more like, "see, we are really still here in spite of colonization."

Tomorrow we are heading to Chaco Canyon, though it seems as though we may have to use some of the original, unpaved Indian roads to get there!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Petrified Forest

Today we headed from Flagstaff, where we overnighted last night, to the Petrified Forest, a huge national park in Arizona. The park is about 28 miles long and is the site of, you might have guessed, a petrified forest in the Painted Desert. We spent pretty much the entire day there. The views are absolutely amazing. There are also some pretty cool petroglyphs and other archaeological sites there. We walked two miles to see one of them, a rebuilt pueblo made from remains from the petrified trees. We also got to watch Zuni traditional potter Eileen Yatsattie demonstrate her work, and M bought one of her pots.

What'd that guy ever do to that bird?

I can see why it is called the Painted Desert

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Montezuma's Castle

We aren't having great luck with airlines! Today, our flight to Phoenix on Northwest Airlines was delayed more than 2 hours. I think I heard them saying something about having to fix broken seats.

But at least we finally made it, rented a car and headed north towards Flagstaff. Our first stop was at a rest area, where we discovered this can be a dangerous place!

Warning Sign at the Rest Area

We stopped along the way to visit Montezuma's Castle. The castle, which stands in a cliff recess 100 ft. above the valley, is a five-story, 20 room dwelling. It is not related to the Aztec leader whose name it was given, but to the Sinagua and Hohokam peoples, who built it and lived there from 1100-1400 AD. Just west of it is a larger, but less preserved 45-room structure that was 6 stories tall. It was abandoned by the time the Spanish arrived, but the descendants of the people who lived there continue to live in the area.

Montezuma's Castle