PUEBLO PINTADO — Victor Beyale filled a crack in the stone wall with mortar and thought of the Ancient Ones.
“They must have been tougher,” he said. “Much tougher than us.”
The quiet mason from Nageezi picked up another round of mud mix from a bucket and carefully filled another crack in the ancient Pueblo Pintado three-story wall.
Working in the desert under the summer sun at noon makes it impossible not to think about the ancient masons.
Beyale was standing on a scaffold tucked against the wall on a recent Tuesday afternoon. He had a panoramic view of the desert land. Underneath, piles of dry shrub and rocks must have been sheltering all kinds of critters, mainly lizards and snakes. Beyale smirked. No angry snake could penetrate the hard leather of his safety shoes. He wore a hard hat, long sleeves, pants and sunglasses, and, in a cooler in the car, he had cold drinks.
“It was harder back then, and they didn’t have the tools we have now,” he said. “But look at what they built.”
Beyale is a member of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park preservation team. He and a group led by Gary Joe of Pueblo Pintado have been working on preserving the remnants of what might have been a Chacoan public building.
The ancient ruin, located about 8 miles southeast of Chaco Canyon, was built on a prominent rise in about A.D. 900, according to park records.
By A.D. 1000, the building took on a D-shape, common to most Chacoan great houses. It contained large rooms, ceremonial kivas and a plaza with a great kiva nearby.
“What was it?” Joe asked, and answered with a joke, “The Anasazi Inn.”
According to park records, “The imposing structure was a center for many nearby communities. It was also a gathering point for travelers from the east who journeyed here before they descended into Chaco Canyon and arrived at the remarkable ceremonial center at the heart of their world.”
“It looks like this was a hotel on their way to Chaco,” Brian Draper, 31, said. “A place to get water and food. It would be cool to see how it looked back then.”
Draper has been working with the team for two years. He is a Navajo tribal member, like most members of the team, and, in the Navajo tradition, Chacoan sites and any other Anasazi ruins are supposed to be left alone.
“My grandparents told me not to come here,” Draper said. “But I think if you treat them with respect, it will be OK.”
Joe said that, before the group starts a project, they perform a protection ceremony and conduct prayers on the site and for the group.
Harold Suina of the Cochiti Pueblo in Sandoval County is another member of the preservation team and the spiritual guide of the team.
Like most pueblos, the Cochiti people claim the Chacoans were their ancestors. Suina, 59, has been working with the preservation team for 13 years. He said he is a medicine man and the one who conducts the prayers.
“My parents knew I was working here before they passed on,” he said. “They told me to respect this place, spiritually and physically. In my own eyes, I can sense the spirits.”
Pointing at a feather on the ground, Suina said he typically looks at objects like that, to see if they have been placed there on purpose, for a specific reason, good or bad, and makes sure the magic in those objects doesn’t affect the team.
They could have been left there hundreds of years ago or recently, he said.
Not all members believe in the supernatural, though.
Leo Chiquito, 69, is a Navajo tribal member.
“If you’re afraid, they’re going to come into you,” he said.
Chiquito has been working for the National Park Service in various capacities for nearly 30 years. It is hard work, he said, but he enjoys the solitude and quietness of the sites.
“Why am I coming? I’m looking for green,” he said.
Another Navajo tribal member, James Yazzie, 57, said extreme weather threatens the structures every year. If they did not do what they do, the sites would be lost and the history gone forever. The team goes around the buildings and adds mortar to the cracks in the walls, to keep the rain from entering the walls, just like the Ancient Ones might have done.
“They used dirt, and maybe a little bit of grass,” he said.
Yazzie started with the Parks Service in the 1970s, as a summer student. He then worked for a railroad company in Colorado and Wyoming, but returned to Chaco because it was closer to home. Like most members of the team, he enjoys the outdoors and working in the solitude of the desert. Yazzie said summer students used to join the preservation team, but it seems that the taboos about working on sacred sites have kept them from returning. He is glad the job is there.
“The Anasazi keep us going,” he said.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal