England is old. Really old. My house was built before America was even a twinkle in the eye of the first pioneers to visit Colorado from Europe. Going to University in Bath can make you blasé to the rich history surrounding you; even walking down the main shopping street, you’re just yards from 2000 year old roman ruins.
Colorado is a little bit different; towns are new; history refers to the previous 150 years. Ruins consist of shanty mining structures rotting slowly on the sides of the roads. Towns are laid out in grids; new civilisations which could be designed for the ease of modern life. Roads which are actually wide enough to have a bike lanes on both sides without hindering traffic.
All these factors have contributed to my view that the American west is a superficial structure sitting on top of all that went before.
New Mexico, which is directly south of Colorado, has a little bit longer history to consider. First colonised by the Spanish in the 1500’s, towns seem to have purpose and meaning, and the dilapidated buildings seem to have had 400 instead of just 100 years to decompose.
Thanksgiving gave me the chance to go beyond what I’d previous seen of New Mexico. My last trip was for a mountain bike race held at Angel Fire ski resort. Like any ski resort, it could have been in any mountain range in the world.
Regina, NM. is the opposite end of the spectrum. A nestled group of houses on a road linking nowhere to somewhere, it has a post office and a small general store. Sitting in the foothills of the San Jose mountains at 8000 feet, its high and cold. The continental divide runs just west of the house, separating the snowy, if small, mountains, from the vast and unending high desert stretching its way through Arizona and even into California.
Before the Spanish were brave enough to enter these regions, the pueblo Indians had made this empty space their home. Although nomadic, a handful of villages remain to hint at the culture that came before what is now called America.
Driving down dirt roads, further into the emptiness which is completely engulfing the car, we wind our way into Chaco Canyon, a low and windy notch cut into the plains.At first, walking up the remains of the great houses, the similarity of colours between the bricks and the canyon walls makes the size of these places unapparent. Walking through the rooms, however, makes you realise that these villages held a greater connection to the landscape than anything built in America since.
The nomadic Pueblo people used these huge houses as community centres, the circular rooms in the middle for religious ceremonies, and gossip exchange areas.
I think some people try to attach too much mystic significance to the populations that lived before we did. I try to think of them as every day people, not too far removed from us, just living their lives. Harsh, tough, solitary lives, but still they made their lives in the place they knew of as home. They colonised this dry, windy and desolate area of a huge country, built their exquisite stone work, and probably didn’t think anything more of it.
In separation from the buildings themselves, the location is intriguing in its own right… why here? what made this area the preferred destination of so much resources?
I suppose this little isolated collection of bricks also highlights the transient state of any civilisation. I wonder what Boulder will look like in 800 years time? Will the modern America be as resilient to time as what I know and love about England? Only time will tell…