Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Up the Arroyo, Part III

               Among the four, then, one would venture on ahead; one would stick back and muse over the rock formations; another would stop and take as many photos as possible of the infrequent but obvious petroglyphs and pictographs, as though they may never be seen again; one would constantly search for water. The morning sighed into noontime, and the breezes thankfully remained stable and slight.

               Petroglyphs and pictographs? The difference is not necessarily understood by everyone.


               A petroglyph is scratched or carved into the actual stone face with a small but solid device, such as a pointed rock, in order to peck away at the surface. Since there are many types of rock onto which the ancients carved petroglyphs, the tool used always needed to be harder than the rock to effectively knock bits off the face. Petroglyphs last as long as the rock face does. Petroglyphs take more time and effort, obviously; because of this fact, many more archeological records of pictographs than of petroglyphs exist in the archives.

               A pictograph is an image painted on the face of the rock. Some were finger painted, and others were put on using an actual brush. The brush might be made of frayed twigs. The paints themselves were dyes made of ground-up pigments mixed with some kind of binder. Of the probably thousands of available pigment materials, depending upon the area and ingenuity of the people, examples of pigments might be charcoal or hematite; or even the natural violet-colored dye of an insect called cochineal or "scale." The binders would be something like egg white, animal fat or plant oils, or blood. Although it might seem that painted images would lose their color and disappear over time, they tend not to in at least desert areas. This is as a result of the lack of moisture and the heat. Human disturbance can be deleterious to these awesome historical artifacts. Thus all the signs at the beginning of the hiking area as well as the roping that attempted to close off extremely sensitive but easily accessible areas with rock pictures along the arroyo.


The Shanty

               These pictures were the string holding the carrot that kept the hikers moving up and up into the cactus-strewn narrows, becoming ever more like a gorge than an arroyo. There was plenty of laughing, pointing, shooting -- and life was great. Hot...but great. Early in the trip, as the four friends wandered, they came upon a kind of small encampment, obviously someone's homestead of many years. On it at the top, flat area was a smallish shack, or shanty. It was placed on the right and uppermost side of the arroyo, across from the rock faces, to allow it (hopefully) to avoid the raging waters of a storm's runoff.

               As the group pondered it, an old man quietly appeared outside of the darkness of his windowless home. In the white sun, the dusty, shadeless and seemingly unkempt property was a little "washed out" colorwise, such that the red tee-shirt, and bright red shorts, of a small and thin individual wearing a tattered baseball cap that covered his face was all they could reasonably focus on. Him and his obviously close-knit family: two small and mangy dogs, as well as a chicken here and there. The little companions scampered down the hill and right into the small pool of water flowing on white rock below (which made it look seductively pristine and clear), coming right up to the feet of the interlopers and sniffing and barking while their tales wagged. The old man stayed at the top for a few moments and called down a word or two. Not a word of English, but a word or two. Clearly male, he yet seemed very androgynous. He was perhaps 5 foot 4 inches and weighed in at around 120 lbs. Maybe. He might have been 60 years old, possibly 100+. Chocolate-dark skin. In Laurie's imagination, he was the embodiment of don Juan (from Carlos Castaneda fame). While she silently indulged in fantasy, the others tried to hear and communicate with the old man. He never did offer a name, and nobody asked.

               Soon, he waved "esperas, esperas" and, with his water jug in hand, fearlessly navigated down the steep hill. He kept his distance, though, and so did the group. The entire moment of the group's interaction, there was a space of about 15 or more feet between the old man and Nate, Joel, Takiya and Laurie. The animal companions were apparently the sentries, and the wagging tails might have told the old man that all was safe. But the distance was kept. Laurie was fascinated by this. Her instinct was to approach him, see him up close, even touch his shoulder and say ola, ask his name, anything. Yet the stage was set, so she merely followed suit and tried to hear him from his distant position.

               He began to tell a story, and Nate, a linguist by education who understood accents and dialects impressively well, also had an ability to pick out words of an otherwise unlearned foreign language and make sense of the context. Thus, he translated for the old man as the latter told of some hidden pictographs (or petroglyphs) about 3 kilometers up the arroyo. Very steep, he warned. No one goes there. Even an anthropology study group came along years before and he pointed them toward this amazing unseen museum, but they called him a pinche cacahuate (meaning in Spanish slang, "rotten peanut"; "rotten" in this case might have been meant as "old"). The local native must have used that obviously entertaining expression by the "stupid White Ones" three or four times in 10 minutes. It was a big hit with the group also, as all four were from then on written off as a pinche cacahuates, so accused at any time of day or night without cause.

               The old man said, through Nate, that his friend was coming the next day and would take the group there. He said it was very difficult and went up in altitude, but that they could try alone if they wished. While filling his water jug in the same spot of flowing water where one of his dogs had completely immersed itself shortly before, the friends faced each other and queried for a consensus: Go up or go back. 

It was getting pretty warm out, and no one had eaten much this morning except perhaps a piece of papaya, a banana, an orange. Coffee. Glancing up the arroyo, it did appear to become much more of a narrow gorge, and 3 kilometers (1.8 miles, which is almost 2 miles navigating cactus and rocks and weeds and fallen trees) to the possibility of some great pictographs (or petroglyphs...). Despite it all, an unspoken vote was taken, and the walk forward began.

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