Hell Music Festival

Hell, Michigan, home to Screams Ice Cream Parlor and this weekend, the Hell Music Festival, an annual fundraiser for UM Children's Hospital.

Stickman outside of Screams. Inside, we ordered a cone of chocolate/caramel/fudge goop from Erik, the Survivor guy known by millions of viewers for making one of the dumbest moves in the history of the show. We wondered how many pesky customers bring up his bonehead move that probably cost him the million dollar prize. "Have a hell of a day", he said as he handed the cone over the counter.

Our melting cone of brown goop would have made great ammo for a game of Monkey Poo Toss.


Ten bands played from 11am to 11pm. We left to attend our first-ever co-ed baby shower and missed the evening acts. Below, one of the first bands of the day covers Jane Says.


Mesa Verde

We spent a quick couple of days this week in southwestern Colorado on business and had the good fortune of squeezing in a visit to the ancient cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park. It is, in all honesty, one of the most incredible places we've ever seen. Seriously.

Words cannot fully describe the magnitude of Mesa Verde. Since not being able to describe something has never stopped us before, we'll give it a try. After entering the park, the road winds upward for several miles through numerous hairpin turns (dented guardrails everywhere, presumably due to motorhomes the size of submarines driving on a road no wider than two mules). When the road crests onto the high plateau, the terrain flattens and is bisected by numerous canyons and deep gorges in parallel, north to south, as if sliced into the earth by a colossal prehistoric butter knife.

These canyons are home to several hundred cliff dwellings, built and occupied by "Ancestral Puebloans" during the 11th and 12th century AD. For decades, the term "Anasazi" was widely used to reference these aboriginal peoples, but in certain translations (that apparently rile the gods of political correctness), Anasazi means "ancient enemies." So in an effort to not offend, the new term is "Ancestral Puebloans." Whatever. All we know is whoever built these amazing and complex structures from stone and brick nearly 1,000 years ago were, regardless of their current name, an amazing and complex people.

We arrived early in the morning and hiked on the first guided tour of the day into the Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in the western hemisphere. Good thing, too. By the time we finished the tour an hour later, a caravan of buses full of tourists from Europe and Japan pulled into the parking lot.

Here's what they would learn about American history during their visit: the dwellings were abandoned in the 12th century and for six hundred years saw no human life, until 1880's when cowboys on horseback travelled through the area. Why the dwellings were abandoned is sometimes cited as one of the great mysteries of history; the theories include political upheaval, drought/crop failure, problems with rival tribes, and southward migration to the lush Rio Grande valley. We have our own theory- more on that later.

What makes Mesa Verde so unique is how pristine the ruins are. Unlike many other crumbling historical sites scattered across the west- ghost towns, army forts, pony express stations, mining camps, Spanish missions, etc., Mesa Verde shows little sign of degradation. It's a testament to the craftsmanship of the builders, and the protection the desolate canyons provided from looters and the erosive elements of nature.

Every square foot of the Cliff Palace had purpose and design. Over 150 individual housing units (the site resembles a massive apartment complex) hover above five kivas (recessed circular areas used for communal or sacred ceremonies). Primitive ventilation systems kept the rooms cool in the summer and pushed out campfire smoke in the winter. In other dwellings at Mesa Verde, archaeologists have found notches carved into walls where sunlight would mark the solstices. Here you see where the women would sit and grind corn into flour, in partitioned areas with metate stones and spillage barriers.

A most incredible facet to 12th century life in the cliff dwellings is while the people resided in the cliffs, they hunted and farmed on the high plateau. Carved into the soft sandstone cliff sides above the villages were countless toe and finger holes used to climb in and out of the canyon. While the residents were no doubt very good at scrambling the rock faces, we can only imagine how many ancestral Puebloans fell into the canyon abyss when rain or ice made the climbing routes treacherous and deadly.

Which brings us back to why, in our educated opinion, the dwellings were abandoned: the residents grew tired of the endless rock climbing accidents. Living below a cliff was probably a lot of fun- until you broke both your ankles one icy morning on your way to hunt a deer. Even the most agile and experienced climbers, at some point, lose balance or grip- ingredients for disaster, of course. Sooner or later, the luster of living on the side of a cliff would wear off, and you too would elect to move out of the canyon to a nice pit house on stable ground. Yeah the view might not be as nice but at least you wouldn't have to worry about stepping over the ledge when getting up in the middle of the night to use the lavatory. You won't see this theory, by the way, in any history books.

The toe and finger holds used by the ancestral Puebloans were replaced by steps and ladders in the 1930's. Here you see how the path climbs up a slot canyon. Had the technology advanced towards these safer routes of travel in the 12th century, the residents may have never left their handsome cliff houses overlooking spectacular Navajo Canyon.

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