The Wind Spirit Ethnogeology from Sunset Crater National Monument The volcanic eruption shot lava 850 feet into the air. Bombs of fire killed every plant within a five-mile radius. A cloud of gas soared over two miles up into the atmosphere. Then, it then rained down over 100 square miles. This was the fantastic eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano nine hundred years ago. Remarkably, people were there to witness it.
Ethnogeology is a branch of science that explores the link between traditional stories from native peoples and the geological processes that built the landscape in which they lived. Sunset Crater National Monument is the perfect place to embark on this endeavor.
For more than two centuries people lived in the Sunset Crater area. Their name has been lost, but their stories have been passed on orally to the descendant cultures of the Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo. The Hopi still tell the story of the wind spirit, Yaponsta.
Yaponsta liked to blow strong gusts and dust devils across the landscape. This made life very difficult for the people. These winds would knock down the corn or cover the young plants with dust so that they could not grow. The people grew weak and frightened. They gathered in the kiva to discuss what should be done to stop Yaponsta. It was decided that they would need help from the twins, Palongawhoya and Pokunghoya. The two war gods were summoned and agreed to help.
They told the elders to prepare a number of pahos, prayer sticks, while they went and sought the advice of Grandmother Spiderwoman. Grandmother told the boys that they would need to seal Yaponsta into his cave if they were to stop the winds. She told them to use a corn mush to seal the cave. So Palongawhoya and Pokunghoya returned to the kiva, gathered the pahos and corn mush, and hurried off.
At the base of the crater, they found Yaponsta’s cave. They quickly ran to the cave and threw in the pahos. As Yaponsta turned to retrieve the sticks, the boys quickly sealed the cave. Now Yaponsta was trapped inside.
Many days passed and the people became worried. Without the winds, no clouds came to their land and so also no rain. Crops began to die. No cooling breezes blew down from the volcano and the people began to suffocate under the oppressive heat.
The elders gathered again in the kiva to debate their fate. It was again decided to call Palongawhoya and Pokunghoya. They asked the twins to go back to the volcano and release Yaponsta for it was better to deal with his winds than live in the situation they had created. The boys returned to the cave, but instead of removing all the corn mush, they created just a small hole from which only some of Yaponsta’s winds could be released.
Today, you can visit Yoponsta’s cave by walking the to the end of the trail at Wupatki Pueblo. When you stand before it, you may feel air moving in or out. Geologists call this a blowhole. Connected to this opening is a vast underground passageway. In the morning when cave air is cool and dense, air pressure is lower than the outside air, so air moves into the cave. During the day, as the sun warms the air outside the blowhole, it becomes less dense and air pressure outside the cave drops. Now the air in the cave has higher pressure and comes out.
Passing storms affect air pressure too and can therefore influence the cave’s “breathing.”
Back in 1965 spelunkers lowered themselves 18 feet down the blowhole. They found the passages too narrow to continue, but calculations suggest that the passageway system has a volume similar to a cave 165 feet high and wide by 50 miles long.
NaturePods shares many stories to help you appreciate inhabitants of these special places. Don’t miss Yoponsta’s cave when you visit Sunset Crater National Monument. Sunset Crater, Walnut Canyon anNature Tracksd Wupatki National Monuments are all featured in the upcoming Flagstaff Area Monuments NaturePod, due out this summer.
Dens and Dreys –Bears and Squirrels Nestled in for Winter
Treetops jostle. Snow twisters whip up and dance away. Snow skitters across the flats like smoke. This cold and blustery January day requires refuge. I’m here in a heated home, but how are our wild creatures faring out there in wind chills dipping into the negative numbers? Need I be concerned? Where are they?
The grey squirrel is active all winter, except on cold days like this. On such days, he can be found high in a tree. There he has made a drey, or nest out of twigs and deciduous leaves in the fork of sturdy branches. He may have bunkmates for extra body warmth or he may go it alone. Lined perhaps with soft grass, the squirrel lies curled up with his bushy tail wrapped around him like a blanket. On a day not quite so harsh, he’ll climb down and search for a buried nut or two to snack on, and then retire again to his winter abode. His summer house may be higher up, between branches that sway in the wind on such days as this. These dreys are easily seen now that the leaves are no longer hiding them. If the squirrel has made a sturdy drey packed with lots of insulating leaves, has a decent layer of fat and a thick winter coat, he should make out just fine.
Black bears don’t hibernate either. They’re too big. A bear has too much body mass to heat up when it comes time to wake in the spring. Body temperature, breathing and heart rate drop dramatically in true hibernators like ground squirrels, jumping mice, and ground hogs. Not so in bears. It is more correct to say black bears are in a state of “carnivorous lethargy”. Let’s just say they’re groggy.
A black bear will most probably stay in a well-chosen den for many weeks at a time. The den-of-choice is a big tree cavity. Pregnant females prefer these sites, which are safest from predators and weather. Otherwise, a den site on the ground will do the job – under a windfall, in a brush pile or in a rock crevice. A cave would not be ideal because there is too much space to heat. A den big enough for a curled-up bear to move around a bit is just right.
As I sit here on this blustery, bone-chilling January day, I cannot help but think about how black bears are faring. Snoozing away in their dens, I hope their fat, fur and den location helps fend off the negative-degree wind chill.
Pregnant females are more picky than males in selecting a den. If large trees with cavities are available, that’s high-rent district right there. If not, then under a windfall, brush pile, or a rock crevice will do. A suitable den provides safety from predation and protection from the elements. It should not be much bigger than the size of a curled up bear. Don’t expect to see a bear huddled up in a cave – too much space and not enough security.
Females are in dens by mid December and males by mid January in the southeastern US. In more northern latitudes, make this a month or so earlier.
Black bears are too big to hibernate. If you want to be accurate, call a bear’s winter sleep “carnivorean lethargy”. If a bear’s body temperature were to drop to the extent a true hibernator’s does – a few degrees above freezing – it would require too much energy to bring all that bulk up to normal again. Heart rate decreases only slightly, as does breathing, so a bear is quite capable of responding if disturbed. I would not advise poking a groggy bear in its den. He’s likely to poke you back.
Although a bear’s gastrointestinal tract shuts down completely, a bear still consumes between 3,000 and 4,000 calories a day during their winter inactivity. This comes from their store of fat. If only I too could sleep my fat away and wake up slim and trim. Another enviable ability is their lack of deterioration of muscle and bone during months of inactivity. You and I would experience extensive bone loss and muscle weakness should we lie still for that long. In the spring, bears give a stretch and a yawn and off they go to find something to eat.
So, you go bear. You’re adapted to this merciless weather. I’ll just continue to sit inside my heated home on this January day, exercise, breathe normally and eat all winter long.
This fellow was certainly focused.
Scampering down, heading under the deck, emerging with a mouthful of brown leaves, scampering back up.
This happened time and time again. I’m thinking this is not exactly the time of year to be building a drey, or squirrel nest. Usually a squirrel has a snug nest before winter’s onslaught. Maybe some leaves blew away and it needed refurbishing. Perhaps this fellow’s drey was damaged and he needed to make a new one. No matter the reason, it is not unusual for a grey squirrel to build several dreys.
The basic framework consists of twigs and lots of deciduous leaves. It could be lined with dried grass or even feathers. Looking skyward in the branches of deciduous trees you can easily see dreys. The topmost cluster of brown leaves are the summer houses.
The more sturdy winter drey is usually located lower, in the fork of a tree. This winter abode is bigger, well insulated and lined. It is a good place to curl up on the coldest of winter days.
Take a count of these leafy abodes on your next winter walk and think of our industrious friend curled up inside snug as a squirrel in a drey.
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