Chaco Canyon

 

I first heard of Chaco Canyon over 12 years ago and never forgot the name. I knew it was in New Mexico and it was sacred land but that was about all.  It seemed I would get there someday for it called me. I waited until the time was right.   It isn’t an easy place to visit.   You can go as a day trip from Albuquerque but it is a three hour drive and the last 15 miles or so are on unpaved roads.   The only way to spend much time there is to camp in the small campground and I’m not much of a camper.   Our tour leader arranged for us to go “glamping” for the night so we could be there for equinox sunrise.

The 15-passenger van picked us up 8am from Hotel Chaco, a new hotel designed to represent the architecture and feeling of Chaco Canyon.    Our guide was very knowledgeable about history and geology, but I soon found myself really wanting to enjoy the land. So I put on my headphones and slipped into a gentle reverie of music and exotic landscape.   Every few miles the ground changed and yet stayed the same–beautiful barren layers of brown and deep blue sky. By noon we arrived at the Visitors Center and had looked around before heading outside and on a small hike up a hill to see a ruin and petroglyphs of animal and spirals—a first taste of the wonders of Chaco Canyon and a preview of the afternoon.

After a picnic lunch were a large, friendly crow offered to help with the leftovers, we went to the main ruin Pueblo Bonito.  The Chacoan people built on a grand scale for over 300 years.   Their buildings had hundreds of rooms with several stories, surrounding open plazas and kivas.   Some of the buildings were oriented to solar, lunar and cardinal directions.   Chaco Canyon become a ceremonial and economic center by the early 12th century.   This was a sacred place and the energy still remains.  Most of the ruins have just a story or two remaining and only one original roof remains.   We wandered around the multi-acre site admiring the unique stone work.   I enjoyed the contrast between stone and the intense blue sky that has replaced the roof.

By late afternoon I was getting chilly and ready to see the special camp.  Our wonderful tour guides Angelisa and Tommy set up new circular tents that blended into the sand.  Inside each tent was arranged a bed with fluffy pillows, bedside tables complete with flowers and a special tin filled with glamping necessities.   I happily spent the rest of the afternoon snuggled in my little cocoon reading and napping.

The sun went down and it quickly grew very cold.   We had a gourmet supper followed by s’mores around the campfire and we stayed close to the fire to keep warm.   Choco Canyon has a protected night sky. No light pollution is allowed, and any city lights are too far away to interfere.  Only a few times in my life have I seen a sky like that night.   The moon was a sliver crescent with Venus nearby.   The rest of the night sky was deep black with the Milky Way slicing deep through the middle.  I had many opportunities to see that amazing night sky as I was awake every hour of the night.  It was a very long cold, cold night—-a new definition of cold.   Glamping would have been perfect for a summer night but we didn’t have quite the right equipment for 12 degrees.  But like all good pilgrimages, the triumph and cheerful survival of the cold added to the story and experience.

Before dawn we were all up and getting ready for the main event—sunrise.  Fortunately, hot coffee was brewing, the bathroom was heated, and the van was warmed-up and waiting.   We didn’t have to worry about changing clothes as we had all slept in every stich of clothing we brought.  Some of the campers did have to use the hand-dryer to thaw out their contact lenses which froze solid in the cold.  With coffee in hand we headed back to Pueblo Bonito along with a total of 100 people allowed to experience the equinox sunrise and accompanying alignment.   Just as the sun rises, a shaft of light shines through a doorway and illuminates the sacred inner room.   This phenomenon is only seen once a year for just a couple of minutes.   A large group was already lined up to see this special shaft of light but I was quite content to see a photo of it rather than be jostled in the crowd.  I felt my experience was just to be there in that holy canyon on that morning.  So I went and stood near a Navajo grandmother who was performing a ceremony to welcome the sun.   In her right hand she held a small rattle which she started shaking the minute the sun started peaking over the mesa.  In her left hand she held an eagle wing and a small pan flute which she would play every minute or so.   I was happy to experience this miracle of the sun and this wise woman who welcomed the light to the world.

photo by V. Budayr

Before long the sun was well above the mesa and the crowd quickly dispersed.  I enjoyed the warm sunshine as long as I could before it was time for a hot breakfast.  Part of the group went hiking and to practice some yoga poses and a couple of us headed near a mesa to build an impromptu medicine wheel and give thanks for our wonderful time in Chaco Canyon.

 

 

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I Wrote a Book

 

I wrote a book!  Pilgrimage: A Modern Seeker’s Guide was launched on May 18 and is now available on Amazon. Over the last 5 years I’ve written about my adventures traveling in the world and at home in my everyday life. This is a guide book to help you find your own pilgrimage in the world and the path to your heart.

The first part is a guide for the physical journey, either around the world or close to home. I answer the questions of why take a pilgrimage and what is a sacred site. Then I created a step by step guide to help you take a pilgrimage from the first whisperings of a Call, preparing, the journey and integration of your experience into your life.

The second half of the book is 40 days of reflections to help find meaning in your journey and discovering your authentic self. Each day is written to take you into your heart and then unfold your new experiences and knowledge to bring you to a new understanding of yourself and the world.

This small book is an accessible and practical guide to make your journey a discovery of our beautiful world and yourself.

You can find my book here:  www.amazon.com

And here:  http://www.audreypress.com

I would love for you to write an Amazon review to help others find my book.

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photo by C. Savage

Temples of Taiwan

Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

My friend Melynie is an expert tour guide and had a full agenda of amazing sites. Her home is near Puli, Taiwan, the geographic center of the island. First we went to the top of the 2nd tallest mountain, Hehuanshan, over 12,000 ft. The view going up was lovely but the top was in cloud providing pelting, freezing rain so we quickly descended to a lower elevation for a lovely picnic.

One day we went to see reproduction aboriginal villages of Formosa, the original name of Taiwan. At this park was also a mini amusement park with an imitation Space Mountain ride and a short cruise through Jurassic World. It was almost spring so we got a hint of flowering trees. The grounds were beautiful and would have been lovely from our gondola ride if we weren’t in yet another cloud. Highest building, tallest mountain and beautiful lake all had the same view on my trip—-pure white. Fortunately there were less cloudy days and the tall, sharp mountains with mist and pagodas made a picture-perfect scene straight out of a Chinese painting—yes it really looks like that. I shopped for tea sets and jade and ate at McDonald’s. I also tried Hot Pot. The vegetables and tofu were lovely boiling in broth, as long as I didn’t add duck intestines or pork belly. We ate at noodle shops with the kitchen on the street and tables behind. We visited a giant Kwan Yin statue presiding over a lake and feed every koi we could find. Just as we would run out of fish food I would dump the last in and start a fish riot—those things are noisy when feeding. But the highlight of the visit was—you guessed it– temples and they are world class.

The Mount Great Buddha took my breath away. High on a hill sits the world’s largest outdoor bronze and gold Buddha- 558 feet tall. It is a place of pilgrimage and a sign gave instructions for the traditional ritual for blessings. Make a half bow, with your hands clasped. Circle the statue clockwise three time while reciting the name “Amituofo”. Make another half bow and then a prostration.

 

Inside on the main floor are three 12-ft. tall Buddhas under a painted dome and 88 gold Buddhas, one for each sutra. On the upper floors are thousands of gold Buddhas along the wall with lights on the floor that looked like galaxies. It felt like I was walking in another dimension. This amazing temple, finished in 2011, is Western Pure Land on earth. Words fail me trying to convey this truly spectacular holy site. It is powerful and yet approachable. We were the only ones there that day and I felt like I had my special moment with this breathtaking Buddha.

Across the valley was our next temple, the Chung Tai Chan Monastery. Finished in 2001, this monastery was build for spiritual cultivation and refuge. This award-winning building embodies the Dharma with art, culture, science and the teachings of the Buddha. Four 40 ft tall temple guardians, the tallest in the world, greeted me letting me know that this is a holy place that I was to approach with reverence. Up the stairs is the red granite “transformation Buddha” also know as “the Great Majestic One”. Silence is required before this holy Buddha as he reflects his compassion in the world of suffering.

 

We joined a Chinese language tour so that we could see the rest of the building. On other floors were sparkling white Buddhas, a seven-story teak pagoda with the Medicine Buddha, two stairways for pilgrimage and meditation halls. Everywhere I looked were thousands of Buddha images. Although both of these temples are new, the power of the devotion to the Buddha gives them a serenity of deep sacredness.

There was one last temple that day. I don’t know the name as there were no signs in English. It was being prepared for the Chinese New Year and a conference. The smell of flowers and incense permeated this holy place all made even more beautiful with the sounds of the monks chanting their prayers. Each temple that day was a perfect and unique experience. Any one would have been more than I could have hoped for. But, the three together made an unforgettable experience in the heartland of this beautiful country.

The final day in central Taiwan was the blue blood eclipse moon on January 31. Unfortunately pesky cloud cover kept me from seeing the eclipse so I thought it was a good day to go to Sun Moon Lake. First we climbed 580 steps to the pagoda overlooking the lake and then took a boat ride on the lake. Street food was the perfect lunch, tofu stuffed with vegetables and spiralized deep-fried potato plus bubble milk tea. I live for bubble (boba) tea. This Taiwanese creation consists of milky tea with ice and large tapioca balls that you drink with a big straw making it a chewy, sweet treat. This original tea is the best I’ve ever had and I’m a connoisseur. I’m now trying to reproduce it at home so next time you come for a visit we will have iced bubble tea on the porch—a new Southern tradition.

Of course there were more temples. At Xuan Zang Temple the nuns were chanting as we walked around and viewed a relic from the 7th century. Next was a Toaist temple, Wen Wu, much more elaborate than the Buddhist temples. Every inch is red or gold, carved and beautiful. There are many levels, each one increasingly lovely. Both of these temples where modern but I liked that they are living temples and not relegated to just history.

The last day in Taiwan Melynie and I went back to Taipei so I could catch my flight the next morning. We spent the day at the National Palace Museum. Melynie had not been there yet and it was fun to explore together. Chang Kai-shek, the founder of modern Taiwan, saw the cultural revolution coming in China and packed up all the art collected for hundreds of years by the emperors and shipped it to Taiwan. The best of over 700,000 treasures are on display, spanning thousands of years of history. The most popular object in the museum is a Bok Choy carved from jadite—a unique choice but fun. You can buy a replica of this cabbage in every imaginable form. A walk in the formal gardens and it was time for supper. We ate in the mall deep in the central station. Melynie was so happy to have American food and find a book store with English books. She felt like she had a mini-vacation and a taste of home.

It was hard to part the next day. Everyday was fun and enchanting with sacred sites, beautiful scenery and lots of bubble milk tea. It was the loveliest adventure with the dearest of friends.

Rosslyn Chapel

Celtic Christianity, the third thread of my Scotland pilgrimage, has a very different feel than the Christianity back in the Bible Belt of the US where I live. Celtic Christianity has always taken on the flavor of the community, history and landscape of Scotland. The influences of the ancient past are still part of the spirituality of the place because you can’t isolate Christianity from the local culture and land. Scotland, being so remote, has been much more influence by isolation than by the Holy Roman Empire. There are no great Gothic cathedrals but instead the great cathedrals of the natural world. I went exploring many of the Christian mysteries of this magic landscape and I want to share with you some of my experiences.

We spent the first full day of our tour at the enigmatic Rosslyn Chapel just a few miles outside of Edinburgh. I first visited Rosslyn in 2009 on a gloomy day in September. There was scaffolding both inside and out and much of the chapel was concealed but I was not disappointed and had such a peaceful experience just sitting with the chapel cat William on my lap and enjoying the power of this small but energetically intense place.

Templar Gravestone, Old Pentland Cemetary

The land surrounding Rosslyn is a beautiful glen that goes straight down on one side of the chapel. We first walked down into the glen to see 400 year old Chestnut trees that hold the memory of this place. There are ley lines, energy lines of the earth, running through this land that cross in the chapel. Peaceful and beautiful and I spent extra time listening to the birds in an old yew tree forest. After lunch we proceeded to the chapel. On this day, there was not a cloud in the sky or a single piece of scaffolding now the renovations are complete. The chapel shone in all its glory. I was happy to be returning on such a perfect spring day. We walked around the outside and then I slowly took my time wandering the inside. I listened to the official guide talk about the history and point out the ley line in the center. William the chapel cat was napping in the same spot as last time and I gave him some love, I’m sure he remembered me. I watched the intense reactions of my fellow travelers to this very holy place. I finally made it to the crypt and lingered with one of my favorite parts of the chapel– a stained glass window with Christ coming out of a diamond.

400 Year Old Chestnut

The next day we went north of Edinburgh to Perthshire, just in the village of Grandtully. I had a big surprise for the group. In a sheep pasture is a little stucco and wood chapel, a place that is easily missed. St Mary’s chapel is a hidden treasure for inside this modest building in the middle of nowhere is a 400 year-old painted ceiling detailing the lineage of Jesus in Scotland. Depicted on the ceiling is a Grail Knight levitating the philosopher’s stone between his hands, a painting of Mary Magdalen, the four gospel authors Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and Jesus channeling energy into the flaming heart of the world. In the center, is a painting of what is clearly the Judgment depicted just like the Tarot. The mysteries are all there. When I stepped back to the far side of the chapel, you can see that each part together makes the shape of the Quabbalistic Tree of Life. This little secret place called me back and I was so glad to share it with my friends. Like at Rosslyn, the hidden stories of Christianity are kept safe waiting to be decoded by those who are willing to see an alternative story.

Grail Knight                                         Mary Magdalen

Jesus and flaming heart                      Judgement

St. Mary’s Chapel Ceiling

Speaking of alternative stories, there was one more mysterious place to investigate on the Isle of Mull. In a tiny church, in the tiny town of Dervaig on the edge of Mull, is a stained glass window with a heretical image. Here, in this hidden spot, is a 1900’s era window that shows Jesus and a pregnant Mary Magdalen in a loving embrace. Now remember, we saw the lineage of Jesus on the ceiling in Perthshire. And what about William Blake’s poem Jerusalem:  

And did those feet in ancient time Walk upon England’s mountains green: And was the holy Lamb of God, On England’s pleasant pastures seen!”

Hummmm. Not the official story but one I have long accepted as possible and probable.

Fairies, Knights Templar, stone circles, ancient forests, mysterious chapels—you just don’t know what you will find next in this magic land. But I had one more place to visit, a place I have longed for and the culmination of our grand Scottish pilgrimage—-Iona.

 

Rosslyn: Guardian of the Secrets of the Holy Grail

by Tim Wallace-Murphy and Marilyn Hopkins

The Woman with the Alabaster Jar:  Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail

by Margaret Starbird

http://www.sacredconnections.co.uk

Youtube:  The Scottish Grail Legacy

Callanish

My latest adventure had been over a year in the planning and many years in my dreams. Finally the day came to leave for my Mysteries of Scotland tour. I visited Scotland with Hamilton in 2009 but it was a short visit and I had a few important places still to visit. So my friend Val set up a tour and we gathered some friends to join us on a mystical pilgrimage to the holy land of Scotland. There were three great mysteries we all wanted to experience: standing stones, nature spirits and Celtic Christianity. All three weave together in a unique way in this enchanted land far away on remote islands in the north Atlantic.

I want to start with ancient standing stones. The world is very familiar with the iconic and immortal Stonehenge and maybe even Avebury in England. But our ancestors left many more of these monuments to the cosmos. There were five stone circles on the itinerary for our pilgrimage so come along with me as we explore these magnificent sacred sites.

The first stone circle and the smallest on the journey was Croft Moraig. This 5000 year-old double circle is just by the side of a narrow road in a sheep field in Perthshire, an hour north of Edinburgh. We silently approached and each person took the time and space to experience the deep knowing of land and stone. We had the circle to ourselves and were able to really experience what was for many people their first time inside an open cathedral to the Universe. Although stone circles still have many great stories to tell, we do know they are places of ceremony for our ancestors, aligned to the sun and stars as observatories and serve as acupuncture points for the energy meridians of the Earth. Most of all, these mighty stones hold the memory of place and time and therefore become the timeless watchers of the land.

Our first stone circle fed our souls and after lunch we went to see the 5000 year-old Yew tree just up the road and another set of stones nearby. On our entire trip this was our only stop in the rain: otherwise the weather was perfection. But we all agreed that the rain was part of Scotland and felt nurtured by liquid sunshine that couldn’t dampen our joy.

The next day we met the third set of standing stones, very different from the first. Clava Cairns is just east of Inverness and very close the famous battlefield of Culloden. We drove right past this place of suffering and went to the peaceful stones and the ancient burial mounds. Clava Cairns is now more popular because of the Outlander series but, on the day I was there, it was cool and clear with a light breeze and just a few other people visiting. As usual I just quietly wandered around and entered the big burial cairns and touched the stones in the circle. The trees surrounding the site are beautiful and add to the gentleness of the place.

The following day we made the long drive to the most important of the stone circles in Scotland and a place I have long desired to visit— Callanish. You can’t get there from here. It takes some serious effort but I was determined and like all pilgrimages the journey and anticipation is just as important as the arrival. We drove to the little port town of Ullapool on the upper peninsula of the Highlands then took a 3 hour ferry ride across The Minch, the body of water separating the islands from the mainland. Fortunately, the water was calm that day and we finally arriving at the town of Stornaway on the island of Lewis which is northern-most island of the Outer Hebrides. The bus was the first to leave the ferry and we were off down narrow, one-way roads with just pull-outs for passing. The final 45 minutes of the trip is through increasingly barren and windswept land. Then there it was, Callanish. The stones rose over the horizon where they have stood for millennia. There was nothing to block the view, no trees or buildings, just the stones standing strong in such a harshly beautiful environment.

The bus pulled into the parking lot and we all made our way up the steep path to Callanish. There were a few other visitors there admiring the stones. I felt like I was at the ends of the earth and these stones were the last outpost. I took my time and skirted around the edge for I wanted to work my way slowly into the center. I walked to the furthest point which are two stones that began the ceremonial entrance to the main stone. I walked up the avenue that narrowed as I got closer. It felt like entering the great temples of Egypt by walking up the avenues lined with sphinx. The circle has four spokes coming from the center and I went to each one and looked out over the land to the nearby lake and then distant hills. What did the stones witness? What did they know? I eventually made my way in to the center and just enjoyed my moment at this beautiful place. Our guide Tracy pointed out the solstice alignment and I took pictures of my fellow pilgrims. Others started wandering back to the visitor’s center for a cup of tea and postcards but I moved off to the side and found a low stone to sit on. I just looked at this majestic monument and listened to some music and took in every part of the moment: the smell, sight, feel, sound. I bathed in the ancientness. It was finally time to leave but I had my moment in time in the timeless. I will be back.

The final stone circle on the tour was also the last stop before returning to Edinburgh to say our goodbyes. I had visited Kilmartin before in 2009 and never forgot it and was happy to be returning. I remember on the first visit when I touched the stones it felt like they were touching back. This visit held the same sensation and I felt very welcome to be back in their presence. It felt like the perfect closing, a benediction for my remarkable days in enchanted Scotland, where the mysteries are there to be touched and experienced without barriers, physical or spiritual. Just me and the stones together on the earth.

 

Tree shaped by the stone circle–Kilmartin

Machu Picchu

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Today was the grand finale, the day we arrived a Machu Picchu one of the 7 wonders of the modern world. We ate a big breakfast and took our luggage to be stored until the train that night. Our guide Valdimir met us and we went to buy bus tickets to the top of the mountain. Alexandra and Anne decided that they needed more trekking so they took the stair trail to the top, 157 flights of stairs. I was happy with the bus that winds around up the mountain on dirt roads without guardrails.

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Vladimir gave us a wonderful guided tour and the girls found us about half way through. We had perfect weather, warm but not hot, blue sky and cool breeze. I was in heaven. The green mountains, blue sky and spectacular ruins —it is like walking in a dream. Nothing could possibly be that perfectly beautiful.


We all wanted to walk to the Sun Gate, a three mile round trip. This is where the Inca trail ends and the trekkers get their first glimpse of this magic city. We sat up on a ruin for a long time trying to soak up every inch of beauty. A man asked Anne if she could take a video. He was actually proposing and she recorded the whole thing. We cheered for the happy couple and her ring sparkled in the intense sun. Melissa and I did a little ceremony for our father who died last year. We miss him so much and he was our inspiration for an active and exuberant life. He loved to walk and so do we. He would have loved the trek and we knew he was with us. I told a story about how he used the Incan writing system of knots in string as part of a Sunday school lesson when I was a child.

 

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We headed back down to the terraces and just laid in the sun. Lisa, who is a yoga teacher, did peacock pose for her obligatory yoga pose at beautiful places. I wanted to walk the whole thing one more time now that it wasn’t so crowded. We just quietly walked through the site taking it all in one more time in our own way without words.
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We were hot, thirsty and exhausted from 9 miles of walking around the site and to the Sun Gate. So we caught the bus down to the town, found a restaurant. Pizza and beer never tasted so good.

A bit of last minute shopping and we headed to the train station just as the porter arrived with our bags. The train took an hour and a half but unfortunately it was dark so no spectacular scenery. A driver met us at our stop and we headed up the mountain back to Cusco, another two hour drive. It was cloudy so we couldn’t see any stars but the full moon lightly covered with cloud was the perfect finale to the perfect day in paradise at the lost city of the Incas.

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I was so happy for a shower and bed. Washed just enough clothes to get us home and fell asleep. I was so dehydrated that I woke up every few hours to drink and then would fall immediately back to sleep.

All total I walked 30 miles above 8000 feet. Our highest point was 15,000. The trip has been a lifetime of memories. All 6 of us where excellent travelers—no complaints, go with the flow and delighted in each new challenge and experience. We were so lucky that there we no injuries or illnesses. Yes a few blisters, sore muscles and a touch of altitude sickness but nothing more. Our time off the beaten path in the perfection of the Pachamama —mother earth—-has made all of our lives richer and more joyous. We are all changed and our lives empowered.

Sacred Valley

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Vicugna

After a breakfast by a crackling fire in the fireplace, we headed out for the day’s adventure. Wilfredo, our guide from the day before, met us for a tour of the Sacred Valley. This is the beautiful valley between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the holy land of the Inca. We quickly left the city and headed down the narrow winding road into the valley. The first stop was a small animal preserve were we saw llamas, alpacas and their petite cousins, vicugna, adorable creatures with long necks, big eyes with long lashes and the softest fur for sweaters. There were the sacred condor, enormous birds, not very pretty but the great messengers of the gods. High in the corner were puma, another sacred animal that represents power. There were also smaller native cats and foxes, monkeys and a darling speckled black bear just waking from a nap. A bit latter this same young bear escaped his cage and we saw him being shooed back home by the keeper. That was one of Alexandra’s favorite moments, the bear escaped the zoo!

Then back up winding roads to the archeological site of Pisac which featured layers of big green terraces build by the Inca. This was the only way to create farmland from mountains. The Inca were experts at building the walls and making the terraces complete with drainage systems which are still perfect hundreds of years later.

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Next in the agenda was the market in the town of Pisac. Dozens of stalls held beautiful Peruvian jewelry, sweaters, blankets, fluffy llama pelts and all other manner of Peruvian delights. We were delighted to trade our Sols, the Peruvian currency, for our new treasures. I bought a couple of alpaca blankets and a hat and scarf I needed to keep me warm during our adventure in the mountains the next day.

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After lunch, there was a quick stop to see the giant guinea pig statue to lure us to stop and enjoy the delicacy roasting nearby. Since I’m not much on roasted pets, we quickly moved on and headed to Ollantaytambo, a magnificent Incan site that was my favorite from my last visit. Very crowed this time but it gave me plenty of time to take the steep steps up the mountain at about 9000 feet. At the top is the magnificent Sun Temple, a mammoth granite holy site. Back down the mountain was a beautiful fountain

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It was time to take the long drive through the mountains to Cusco. The sun was setting over the snow capped mountains. The pink sky and full moon guided us back to the hotel where my sister and niece Anne were waiting to greet us. They had arrived that day on a different flight.  A supper of wood-oven pizza finished the day perfectly and then we headed to our plush hotel to prepare for the next day’s adventure.

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“Glamazon” woman too tall for the door.

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More lambs with knit hats.