Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Bone Shrine

  Years ago.  No, DECADES ago.  Last century.   A Navajo man told me about a place where bones littered a ledge up on Shiprock.  You could walk there.  Eagles nested overhead.  I was a child and had hardly any concept of how to get around on the rock, which places would go and which wouldn't, and didn't have the map of experience in my head.  On top of that, though I didn't realize it at the time, the Navajo are notoriously vague direction-givers and as a practice never use any term for distance, time, compass points or left and right.

  Here's typical Navajo instructions, as given to me last week about finding my way to a point by a professional fire watcher who knows azimuth, grids, USGS mapping, GPS points, et:

  "Go down there, behind little hill.  Along behind ridge.  Go along there for a while past where man used to have corral, maybe little bit more.  Bad spot in road maybe.  Then watch over that way, up a little more and into tree.  Road go along there and maybe join up.  Might be open spot past that side."

  Or maybe not.  At any rate, I kept an eye out for the bone-littered ledge for this century and a good chunk of the last.  Just by elimination I had narrowed what I began to call the Bone Shire down to a certain area.  I'd been everywhere else.

  Last Thursday, after some fits and starts I stepped off a little before sunup with camera, tripod and plenty of water to go up behind the White Tower on the North East corner.  Aerials showed a big cleft behind it.  On this side, the Climbers Cave and a very comfortable ledge where I had slept many nights.  There's no close way to get there though I had walked below it circumnavigating Shiprock a couple of times.

  It's a sporty walk.  Bouldering.  Scree climbing.  Trail and route finding.  All at 7000 feet.  I made pretty good careful time as the light broke and went past the point where I had ever been and hugged the base of the tower curving up and right.

  One of the first features I saw was a detached slab sitting on the trail.  This is unusual for Shiprock.  It's the only one I know of, though who knows what rock climbers find above.  I walked past it and made a note to shoot it when I came back.  I was trying to get to my far point as quick as I could and then work in reverse toward the car.

  Just a little bit past I saw a big ledge overhead and scrambled around up on it.  Before I even shed my tripod and pack I saw a small set of articulated vertebra, probably jackrabbit, just under the overhang.  The closer I walked the more bones there were.  Back in the shadows under a vertical cleft there were so many bones in the dust that you could scoop them up by the double handful.

  The bones rattle down a long vertical crack system from a traditional Golden Eagle nesting site somewhere overhead.  I've seen the Eagles coming and going from this corner, seen their chick sitting on the peak and heard them above for years.  A few days previously they were in the air in this area.

  Very satisfying to sit back with a stripped jackrabbit femur in your hand and have the pieces all come together.


d smith kaich jones said...

thank you for this story. and the images. for going and telling and doing.

Old NFO said...

Thanks, and directions ARE interesting sometimes... :-) At least you finally found it!