"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The allure of caves, what a picnic

Dawn on the stark, flat beauty of the Llano Estacado, Texas
What is it with caves?

The Bells hiking to the cave in Palo Duro canyon
You see one, and you're instantly curious, instantly attracted.

  • Is it some atavistic beckoning from our long distant past, when our ancestors lived in them?
  • Is it some philosophic DNA that draws us, that is in our deep subconscious?
  • Is it just our natural curiosity that has helped us survive and progress through the eons?
  • Or is it much simpler than that?

Plato's mythological Cave Parable comes to mind, where we are prisoners of our words, shadows of reality.
Growing up in the Southwest, I know cave dwellers are much more recent than those from the distant past. Visit the great cave cities of the Anasazi in Mesa Verde, or at Bandelier, and you know.  More recently, consider the dugouts and soddies homesteaders in Oklahoma and Texas lived in not long ago.
Yet, we still live in caves, if you look at crowded cities and the skyscrapers people call home, gathered around their modern fires, seeking safety from the wild world below.
Perhaps that's just too complicated and philosophical. 
Cave dwellers
All these thoughts came to mind this past week when I went on a picnic in Palo Duro canyon in West Texas with my son and daughter in law and three grandchildren, Todd and Dallas Bell, Erin, Abby and Max.
I love Palo Duro canyon because it's easy to go back in time in imagination and see the Comanches camped there, and the cattlemen like Charles goodnight who had a dugout there. After the stark flat beauty of the Llano Estacado, the dramatic colors and erosion of the canyon are always surprising and magic.
Which leads us back to a cave. There are more than one in the eroded cliffs of the canyon, but one is huge in terms of height if not depth.
The kids were talking about it before we even descended into the canyon, wanting to hike to "the cave."
We stopped to eat at a roadside table as it loomed in the distance, and then we hiked there in bright sunshine, up through the sandstone and rocks.
 In the cool of the shade, we relaxed--modern "cavedwellers." Then the Bells gingerly inched up the cliffs to look down into the cave from the top. 
Looking down, you could see the allure of a cave in a wild canyon. We were not alone, as it beckoned several families  before we descended.
Max and the kids looking in from top
It's easy to see time in the canyon, in the layers of rocks and imagination, and we were time travelers, into the past and back to the present. All because of the allure of caves.
Looking back from whence we came--something caves enhance
Palo Duro canyon--surprising and magic

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