Coyote and Badger is a natural history book set in Chaco Canyon. The canyon is part of Chaco Culture National Historical Park in the
northwest corner of New Mexico. I was traveling through the Southwest searching for a desert story when the inspiration for this book
happened before my eyes. It is a story of cooperation between different animals, something we can all learn from.
The book came
out in early 2001 and has received much recognition:
First Place from the National Outdoor Book Award, 2001
Outstanding Science Trade Book, 2001, The Children's Book Council
I made three trips to Chaco Canyon while working on this book. On the first trip, I was part of a Sierra Club service crew doing work
in the park restoring trails and taking out old fences. Chaco is a broad, shallow canyon with walls about 200 feet high. Driving in,
it is not apparent that there is a canyon there at all, until you are almost there. The first thing you see when you drive the rough
road into Chaco Canyon is Fajada Butte. It rises majestically between the canyon walls like a temple. It was a sacred spot to the
ancient people who lived there.
It was a year of considerable drought, even for the desert. After seeing a coyote and badger hunt together, I had several more sightings
of these animals, but not together again. At the time, I was not aware that the two animals hunted in cooperation, and how lucky I
was to witness this. Later, I talked this over with desert naturalists, and they said, yes, they knew how the two animals worked together,
but they had never seen it in person.
Coyote and Badger is a fictionalized natural history. I did a great deal of research before I began writing, reading many books and
articles on coyotes and badgers, including many Indian legends in which Coyote and Badger are "friends". I have tried to keep the
story as true to the wild animals as possible, but of course, I did not see the other stories that I tell in the book.
This is one of the illustrations from the book, where I imagined Coyote next to a kiva, under the stars of the Milky Way, which is
exceptionally vivid in the dark clear skies of the area.
We camped in a spot not too far from the butte. As I was sipping coffee early one morning, I noticed a coyote prowling around a huge
jumble of rocks at the base of a nearby cliff. It must have chased something in there. Suddenly a rabbit burst out from a narrow crack
in the rocks. The coyote had it in two bounds. Why, I asked myself, would the rabbit leave the safety of the rocks. Then I saw a badger
emerge from where the rabbit had been. Could they working together? I forgot about breakfast and followed the animals as they hunted
for more game. They acted like pals, coming together and sniffing each other from time to time. I never saw them catch anything else,
but I had the inspiration for my story.
There are many ruins in Chaco Canyon. This was a great center for the Anasazi about a thousand years ago, and they constructed elaborate
pueblos with dozens of rooms. The stone work in these pueblos is absolutely gorgeous. It was done by people who worked entirely by
hand with no metal tools. This pueblo ruin is recreated in one of the illustrations in the book. I spent hours drawing these structures,
trying to understand how they were built and what colors I should use in my illustrations.
Chaco Canyon is high desert, about 6000 feet in elevation. It is very dry and gets quite hot during the day but cools off nicely after
sundown. When we were not working for the park we often hiked the desert trails, being careful to protect ourselves from the sun and
carry plenty of water. I saw this collared lizard on a hike. It is a fairly common animal, but I was struck by its beautiful markings.
Chaco Canyon is a place well worth visiting, not only for the chance of seeing wild animals, but for the incredible history left
in the ruins of pueblos, rock paintings, and pieces of beautiful pottery. Near the pueblos are many kivas. Kivas are round rooms that
were probably used for religious ceremonies by the Anasazi. The ruins of these kivas are considered sacred places by the Hopi, Navajo,
and other Indian tribes of the area. Once the kivas had roofs, made of heavy timbers cut and carried by hand from the mountains over
fifty miles away. Today the roofs are gone, but the stone work still stands. This is a drawing I made in my sketch book from inside
one of kivas. At that time park visitors were allowed to enter the kiva, and it was a great privilege to sit and draw in a such a
place. It was very peaceful. The kivas are no longer open to visitors, but you can stand at the rim and look down into them.
The desert is a fascinating place. I am drawn to the open landscapes in the same way I am drawn to the Arctic Tundra. In each of these
places, life is difficult for the animals, but they have learned to adapt to the harsh climate, be it heat or cold. There is much
we can learn about adapting to change, from these creatures of nature.