the desert cities

House of Rain by Craig Childs (Back Bay Books, 2006)

A few years ago my sister Alia and I took a road trip to visit some archaeological sites in the southwestern United States. I used to be a geologist and she’s an archaeologist (although her area of expertise is considerably more Roman and more volcanic), so driving around the desert looking at ruins sounded like a good time to us. We went to Mesa Verde to tour the cliff houses (with—I kid you not—the most ill-informed volunteer ranger in the entire National Park Service), to Hovenweep to wander around among the towers, to Chaco Canyon to cling desperately to the barren rock with our fingernails while a windstorm tried to blow us away. Look, it was a really powerful windstorm. We couldn’t even sit outside at our campsite because the wind kept blowing our beer bottles over, and that was beer we had backtracked twenty miles to buy at a lonely gas station on US 550.

But we braved the wind to see all the ruins we could see and did manage to visit most of the great houses of Chaco. I bought this book in the visitor center during one of our breaks from all that blowing. It’s been on my bookshelf ever since; I more or less forgot about it after I got home. Now that I’ve read it I wish I had done so when the places we visited were fresh in my mind.

Southwest Ruins April 2010 192

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