Cave Dwellings at Bandelier

The first time I saw the cave dwellings at Bandelier National Monument, I wanted to move in. They’re small and cramped and probably cold in the winter, but they are set in a canyon that could be an American eden. Part of the great Pajarito Plateau immediately west of the Rio Grande (northern New Mexico), the land all around is arid, the vegetation sparse. But a stream runs the length of this canyon (Frijoles Canyon). Sweet grass, wildflowers, bushes, and tall ponderosa pines offer shade and sustenance. The cliff walls protected the long-ago inhabitants from sun and wind and marauders. From any of dozens of the caves you can look down on the adobe ruins of Tyuonyi where family and neighbors lived.
The canyon walls are made of tuff, volcanic ash compressed and hardened over time. These cliffs are naturally full of pocks, like holes in a sponge. The people who lived here easily scraped them out to enlarge and shape into living areas. The ones I climbed into were mostly about the size of a large walk-in closet. The ceilings are blackened from all the years of fires burning on a raised hearth. They would have constructed some kind of door and or window covering, probably of hide.
At its peak, Frijoles Canyon probably supported fewer than a thousand people at any one time. I can imagine a sunny day, people out and about, flaking arrowheads, chipping basalt for axe heads, grinding corn, chasing giggly children — it must have been a musical place. The people farmed some right here in the valley, the usual trio of corn, beans, and squash planted in grids, but most of the farming was up on the mesa top. They had to be pretty fit climbing in and out of the canyon, climbing up and down from the cave homes. Barring something they could have used a surgeon or an antibiotic for, I should think day to day, they were pretty healthy. No couches to potato on, no TV or video games, no elevators, no transport other than their own two feet, no Twinkies, no potato chips. Still, I realize, no one’s life was as likely to be as long as ours, and painful conditions were only slightly relieved by their natural remedies. But it’s much more pleasant to imagine how lovely that valley was, everyone you know and love close by, meaningful labor, and a sense of the spirit world being fused with the everyday world.
Yeah, I know. I’m a romantic. Life would have been tough at times. The people living in these caves faced periodic droughts that led to short rations and sometimes to famine. They had to fight off marauders after whatever they could get, food, turquoise, tools, even slaves. In the late 1500s, times were bad. Drought, marauders, and then — here come the Spanish conquistadors. This life-changing clash of cultures and religions are the subject of my latest novel, Crimson Sky (available through Amazon Kindle and in Barnes and Nobel’s ePub format).

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About glcraig

Gretchen Craig’s lush, sweeping tales deliver edgy, compelling characters who test the boundaries of integrity, strength, and love. Told with sensitivity, the novels realistically portray the raw suffering of people in times of great upheaval. Gretchen was born and raised in Florida. She’s lived in climates and terrain as diverse as the white beaches of the Gulf Coast, the rocky shores of Maine, and the dusty plains of Texas. Her awareness of place imbues every page with the smell of the bayous of Louisiana, the taste of gumbo in New Orleans, or the grit of a desert storm. Rich in compelling characters and historical detail, Always and Forever is a sweeping saga of Josie and Cleo, mistress and slave. Amid Cajuns and Creoles, the bonds between these two remarkable women are tested by prejudice, tragedy, and passion for one extraordinary man. Gretchen’s first novel won the Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence for Mainstream with Romantic Elements and was chosen as an Editor’s Pick in the Historical Novel Society reviews. Ever My Love, winner of the Booksellers Best Award from the Greater Detroit Romance Writers of America, continues the story of Cleo and Josie’s families, of their struggle for principle, justice, and love in a world where the underpinnings of the plantation culture are crumbling. Crimson Sky, inspired by the pueblos, mountains, and deserts of New Mexico, evokes the lives of people facing neighboring marauders and drought. Now the march of Spanish Conquistadors up the Rio Grande threatens their homeland, their culture, and their entire belief system.
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