“When I was a kid we would run all around here, climbing the ladders, jumping off the rocks.”
Simon is guiding me through a Pueblo settlement north of Santa Fe more than 800 years in the making.
“Yes, this was our home.”
His voice is strong but wrestles at times in finding the right word to communicate what he is trying to tell us. His long black hair is woven into a braided tail and hangs from beneath a mesh baseball cap. He is genuine, he is proud.
Our walk is unstructured as if he is doing this for the first time – but he is not. His words, rather, are genuine and unscripted. A life of living and absorbing history cuts you free from talking points.
As we walk across the mesa he recounts of how hundreds of people lived in the communal area, building two-story adobe structures accessible to the upper floors by ladders.
“This was for whenever danger came you would pull up your ladders,” he said.
The ground is barren and dry. An open area surrounded by stones that once housed fresh water is now barren and overgrown. His ancestors dug the retention area out of the surface of the rock allowing for the water to remain clear and drinkable.
We climb down a wooden ladder into a small hole dug out from the surface of the rock. The floor rests ten feet below the surface, the air noticeably cooler.
Back up on the mesa, we look out across the valley. Trees, rocks, and brush populate the grounds.
“There is the volcano the created this land,” he said, his arm pointing to tall conical structure miles off into the distance. The image ominously looks over the valley.
“We farmed below and lived up here. This was our home.”
Simon leads us down the face of the cliff to the homes cut from the face of rock where his ancestors spent their winters. Following his footsteps, we work our way down a hand-carved aquifer that also served as stairs as his ancestors moved back and forth.
Pointing up he shows us pictographs etched into the walls. Animals, men, and nature are celebrated. The carvings date back hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus sailed to the Americas. Simon’s ancestors did not need to be discovered.
The caves, created by stone on stone, are small, but spacious. The ceilings darkened from the soot of fire inside during the winter months.
“The rock walls retained the heat from the sun helping make the rooms warmer,” he said. “In the summer months, they would return to the cooler mesa village.”
We continue to climb down the cliff – something I never would have imagined doing earlier that day. But somehow I never felt in danger. There was something there, something bigger than me watching over us.
Standing at the bottom and looking up I understand the world is not always what we are told. And for Simon, his is one of great depth and honor.