Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Journey Back in Time

I do a lot of research for my books. Sounds tedious, but it's not. It's the fun part. You see, my goal is to utilize our natural world as inspiration, and this also means my landscapes have to actually exist, although I admit to mashing together widely dispersed features to create the magical realms of the Elementals. Some times I scour the internet, other times, I pull memories from my own travels. But the other day, not was popping.

My parents traveled extensively, and they had adventures most of us will never experience. So while I was struggling to find something remarkable about flint, a rock more generally known as chert, I recalled a story I heard more than a decade ago. 

"The ancient and unmarked trail to the chert deposit started at a seemingly unmarked location. The unassuming spot of sand off an unremarkable road in Arches National Park wound down two tire tracks cutting through the grassy landscape. We drove through the high desert country for many miles. Travel was slow, and to eyes used to seeing the modern world, it was dangerous country. In all directions, everything looked the same in this orange colored world. The landscape is orange due to the iron deposits in the sandstone layers. Sparse low-growing, sage green plants marked the rough surface, and one expected to encounter a dangerous rattlesnake at every scrubby clump of vegetation. They ruled this world. This was their home and we were the unarmed aggressor.

Very little marked our trail and it was necessary to scan the horizon continuously for landmarks. Humans 10,000 to 20,000 years ago were indeed brave, and they must have both puzzled and marveled at what they saw. To help, or maybe frighten, modern man, signs warned against continuing without an adequate water supply, a working radio, an accurate map, a practiced guide, protection from wildlife and the blazing sun, and if that weren’t enough to chill the blood, sudden roaring desert floods. False trails were common. The area was difficult for even a 4-wheel drive truck to pass as numerous, sharp, unseen, and unexpected solid rock ledges jutted one to one hundred feet across the trail. We frequently had to follow the ledges for miles to find a section where the stone had worn down enough for the vehicle to either descend or ascend as needed. Numerous sand pockets covered the landscape so we had to move at a quick, even speed so we didn’t sink into the sand and become permanently lodged in the desert. Eventually, the trail passed through a fence surrounding the park property. We had finally arrived at the government owned, bureau of land management property.

Here, the topography leveled off, and the ground became of mixture of sand and small boulders. For some reason, and I assumed it was related to the water supply, the few plants that had already been sparse had now disappeared. No sign of earlier travelers could be seen, but ancient man would have noticed the modern trails that were invisible to my eye. In the distance, I saw an imposing gray high cliff, tall and stretching across the horizon. We had arrived in a shallow valley wider and longer than I could see in every direction, but my eyes were fastened on a towering cliff before me.

The sea of orange had receded and we were in a world of gray: gray sky, gray ground, and dominating our line of sight, the cliff of gray chert. As we approached, I felt as if we were entering an ancient cathedral. When we got closer, we were shocked to discover the gray cliff was actually highlighted with an extremely narrow band of coal black chert with a slightly wider stripe of bright orange chert. It seemed to go on for miles. It was as if an ancient artist had pinstriped the cliff formation with his brightly colored paintbrush.
Small landslides, some thousands of years old, had brought down tumbled mounds of the cliff face. We were surrounded by signs of early man who had expertly used the beautiful chert to make his tools and weapons. His discarded flakes of stone lay were they had fallen. It was as if we were the first humans to walk here since that time.

This location is carefully guarded, and there are no actual directions to follow to this cliff. Some Archeologists now believe early man was here, constructing his tools, perhaps as much as 10,000 years earlier than previously thought."

From the memory of Joyce Ferrell who took this amazing journey in 1999. She recorded this vivid recollection at my request in January 2015. 
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