Sunday, February 24, 2013

Unexpected wonders

It's the greatest thing to discover something new when you're not expecting it.  That happened just last week.

Granddaughter Heidi and husband, Chris, came from Las Vegas to Mesa for their annual President's Day weekend visit. Besides loving to be with them for three wonderful days, we try to experience some new adventure each time.

One year it was Saguaro National Park and the Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson; last year Tortilla Flats, nestled in the Tonto National Forest/Superstition Mountain Range and from there, Goldfield Ghost Town. Heidi memorialized our adventures with photo albums for us, and we frequently re-live them through the colorful pages.

Two years ago, it rained all weekend so our "adventure" consisted of discovering new places to shop. Gallant Chris dropped us off at the store's doorway as he braved the elements to park the car and sprint inside dripping wet. Once inside, we explored everything there was to see, then ventured to the next indoor place.

But we've been rewarded with perfect weather weekends ever since. This year was the best and even allowed us to eat a steak dinner out on our new deck.

This year's "adventure" was a drive to Globe, a town in a higher elevation about 45 miles east of Mesa. The drive itself was the adventure since the highway is bordered by shimmering rock and steep mountain hills.

Just outside Globe, we saw a roadside sign, Tonto National Monument. Our curiosity aroused, we decided to check it out.

Turning left and up the mountain road about 17 miles, we came to the site. Looking down, you could see the valley; looking up, the beautiful mountainous hills. And there in the hills were two cave dwellings, an upper one and a lower one. As we later learned, the caves were home to the ancient Hohokam (550 A.D.) and later the Salado Indians (1150) who built small villages in the hills.

Both dwellings, upper and lower, can be toured today. Three of us (admittedly, I stayed behind) toured the lower dwelling. It was a steep half-mile walk to get there, but worth the effort, reported my fellow travelers.

Photo by Chris Tertipes

Inside you could see various rooms. Though primitive, they contained doorways and wooden beams protruding through stone openings. The walls still miraculously contain markings. Touching a marking leads to an instant reprimand by a nearby guide, as my husband can attest.

The caves were carefully chosen so the morning sun warmed it in the winter and the shade offered cool protection from the summer sun.

Aside from the surprise discovery of the monument itself and the beautiful scenery, it was fascinating to learn more about the lives of the Salado (meaning salty) and their everyday lives. Men would hunt in the pre-dawn hours, bringing home a rabbit, perhaps even a wood rat, to skin and cook. Later they would set quartzite stones in mortars of clay and desert soil to construct a new room. Women would don sandals of woven yucca leaves and go the desert hillside where, carrying a gathering basket and a crude pole, they would harvest fruit from the saguaro.

Saguaro cactus in bloom

Later, during midday, this would be boiled to make jams or syrup.

I was most fascinated by the arts and crafts of the Salado. Beautiful decorated clay pots, pottery bowls, woven goods (woven primarily by men) and baskets, as well as inlaid turquoise jewelry, reaffirmed my belief that all peoples have an appreciation for artforms and creativity. Some of the preserved artifacts were displayed in the Visitor's Center and included an exquisite piece of lace.

Grandpa and Heidi return from the lower cave.
Saguaro cactus plants in background.

So next time you see a road sign that gives you even a twinge of curiosity....go explore! We were glad we did.