I’ve always struggled with coming to an understanding of Four Corners archaeology. Although I really enjoyed the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding and visiting Mesa Verde, I’ve never been able to read something in a discplined enough fashion to understand how Chaco, Aztec Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Hovenweep, and Mesa Verde all hung together as cultures in the region.
When I downloaded House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest, Craig Childs’ writing transported me to a place where evidence of this vanished civilization was visible all across this high plateau landscape I’ve been wandering over the last couple of years. Childs focus on the Four Corners civilization was driven by his attachment to the Southwest. Aside from my intimate ties to the Pacific Northwest, I identified with his statement that “The impulse that commands me to go is balanced by another that commands me to stay, the two working together to send me into quick but returning orbits around certain places: the Mogollon Rim of Arizona, the low desert south of there, the high desert north, and the castle perimeter of the Rocky Mountains beyond. I am constantly in motion among these landscapes, yet my life rarely ranges any farther, tethered by history and experiences to the Southwest.”
I finally learned about how culture had developed in Chaco Canyon before spreading to Aztec Ruins, Solomon, and Mesa Verde. I learned how the Hopi, the Acoma, and the Zuni fit into the ancient Aztec history. I learned that the Navajo are completely unrelated to the Aztecs yet are responsible for the common name “Anazasi” meaning “enemy ancestor.”
As he moved from Chaco, north to the San Juan River and again into the Canyonlands before drifting south to Kayenta and Black Mesa, I found myself drawn in to a deeper history of these places I am beginning to know. When the book continued further and further south to the Mogollon and even to Northern Mexico, it enriched my understanding of what it means to wander and embrace these places.
I completely recommend House of Rain as a great introduction to the history of people in the Southwest from the twelfth century to the early fifteenth century, especially for people who love to put their feet to the ground as they learn.