When we saw the car pierced by the arrow south of Moab, Utah, we wondered if it was an elaborate pun, or just an awareness of the strong Native American In a sandy desert sits an old junk car; three giant arrows have been crafted appearing to pierce the car. Not a Pierce Arrow presence near the Four Corners area. Anyhow we walked across a field full of tumbleweeds to get you a close-up picture.

Far more captivating were the views of Square Tower House and the other cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park. The weather turned out to be magnificent - the sky blue, the sun brilliant, two days after a storm front had painted the top of the Mesa white with snow, but the roads clear and dry. Bob and our two sons had visited there on a camping trip 30 years ago, but it was Elsa's first trip, and she was enthralled!

The cliff dwellings took advantage of the natural hollows, sometimes almost caves, in the rock face not far from the mesa top. It was an easy matter Protected from intruders and invaders, Stone House sits carved into a natural arch in the wall of a cliff at Mesa Verde Stone House, Mesa Verde to climb down a ladder to gain the safety of the village, and to pull the ladder down if necessary to foil any human attackers. The dwellings were inhabited for centuries, as the natives gradually evolved an architecture from simple adobe huts to elaborate multi-storied sandstone apartments with doors and windows. Suddenly, in the thirteenth century, the people left. Perhaps the land was no longer productive; there was a long drought around this time. The supply of game may have been depleted. Archaeologists aren't really sure.

Anyhow, this was in 1300. We wondered whether the New Englanders would have been able to sustain their judgment of the natives as savages had they seen these cliff houses, much snugger and safer than the early European settlers' wigwams. The inhabitants of these cliff houses had developed advanced masonry skills because they lived permanently in these cliff dwellings. This cliff house is elaborately constructed out of stone with many stories. Square Tower House

Without ranting, let us say that the museum display at Mesa Verde looked very much the same as 30 years ago -- it could use a good modernization.

A little before Mesa Verde, we spotted, read about, and passed by the Hole in the Rock House, built from 1940 to 1960 by hollowing out rooms in a sandstone cliff, and open to tourists for a $4 fee, according to the AAA TourBook.

Continuing south into New Mexico, we visited the ruins of a large pueblo at Aztec National Monument. The name was a mistake, due to the early settlers' lack of knowledge of various American civilizations, but it stuck, and the town and monument are both named after the civilization far to the south.

Most of these ruins were well and truly looted in the nineteenth century, so there's very little evidence for the archaelogists to study. Also, we were interested to learn that the present practice is to excavate, evaluate and gather information, and then carefully rebury the ruins to stabilize them. The large multi-roomed pueblo dwelling surrounds a circular stone construction. Aztec National Monument The costs of caring for the exposed sandstone walls in this pueblo are very high, and some of the outer rooms have been covered over, with just the outlines of the walls showing.

The question of the kinds of ceremonies that were conducted in the old kivas kept us occupied for a while. The archaeologists can tell that normal domestic activities apparently were not carried out in the kiva, but without written records, it is quite difficult to verify if the ceremonies in the ninth through thirteenth centuries were similar to the ceremonies carried out in the twenty-first century by people who may not even be descended from the old occupants of these villages. With the current state of our archaelogical technology, it's probably unknowable.

The first place we called in Albuquerque for reservations was booked up because of an Air Force conference. Perhaps some of our friends and former colleagues are in Albuquerque this week -- if so, look us up at the Residence Inn!