Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Visions of the American West (Part 3)

The Mountains

By James T. Carney

The third part of the West is the Mountains (Rockies) and the high plateau around them. Indeed, it is this area – the home of dude ranches and national parks – that most Americans now seem to identify as the West. The Rockies extend from Alaska south to the Mexican border. They encompass the western part of Washington, almost all of Idaho, the western parts of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, as well as a strip of New Mexico and the mountainous part of the Big Bend area of Texas. Although one thinks of ranching in terms of Texas and the Great Plains, the Mountains are the site of much modern-day American ranching, as it has been for a good century and a half. Unlike the Great Plains or the Southwest, the Mountains have much water and good land suitable for grazing, although generally not flat enough for farming. The Mountains are reasonably temperate in the summer but brutally cold in the winter. Even sections of interstate highways that go through mountain passes are often blocked by winter storms (which cause havoc in the Great Plains). Indeed some roads are not even maintained in the winter.
    The Mountains are the site of a number of Indian reservations, because many Indian tribes lived in them before the white man came. One seems to encounter a different world if one leaves the Four Corners area (where the borders of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico meet at one point and you can occupy four states at once) and enters the southwestern part of Colorado, which is green and luscious. This area is the site of Mesa Verde National Park, where the cliff dwellers (called Anasazi, or ancient enemies, by the Navajos) lived.
Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde
    Several thousand people must have lived in the adobe buildings against the cliffs. These settlements were abandoned in the mid-twelfth to thirteenth century. Why is not clear, but it is quite possible that natives exhausted the resources of the area or that a drought came along. Although some call their disappearance mysterious, I think most people say they simply moved to Northern New Mexico, where they created the Pueblo culture, which has many features in common with the Anasazi culture.

[Tomorrow: The Northwest]

Copyright © 2017 by James T. Carney

1 comment:

  1. I am really enjoying your series on the American West. Until three years ago, most of my travelling in the USA had been to northern or eastern states. In recent years, I've enjoyed getting to see a small snapshot of some of the regions you're talking about, and I look forward to visiting more of them.