From the Editor

Vacations center around places and activities that are recreational, refreshing and at once thought-relaxing and thought-provoking. Places of natural beauty rate highly, such as national parks, mountain ranges, deserts and seasides. In this issue, we focus on a special class of places where the soft and hard boundaries of flesh and rock have been merged or blurred by the hands and minds of humans. Such places tend to stir us in ways that are, at least in part, at the edge of our explanation and understanding.

In our first feature, Staff Writer Naomi Lubick takes us to a unique type of “flesh and rock” vacation destination in her piece, “Petra: An Eroding Ancient City.” For this pre-Christian trade-route metropolis in southwestern Jordan, the habitants carved shrines, public places and water-management structures out of sandstone cliffs flanking a fertile valley. This dramatic living situation worked fine as long as the control of nature was sustained; but once neglected, the life-sustaining water, under the influence of sandstone relief, has set about to undo all that flesh had done. Fortunately, scientists are working to preserve the cultural site. Similarly, in a sidebar to this story, Staff Writer Megan Sever tells the story of the tragic destruction by the Taliban of two enormous Buddha statues in excavated caves in Afghanistan and the current preservation and possible reconstruction efforts.

In the United States, “Memorials in Stone” visits the shrines of Stone Mountain in Georgia, and Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, in South Dakota. Rooted as each is in its separate niche of American experience, they conjure similar emotions from “flesh and rock.” Contributing Writer Sara Pratt, in “Memorial to the Old South,” makes at least this Yankee intent on a southern vacation swing. Megan Sever then whisks us northwest to the Black Hills of South Dakota for engaging visits with Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. No matter what you learn from these stories or see on a visit to these extraordinary places, the deepest and most lasting impact will be the indescribable feelings they arouse.

Nowhere are those feelings more apparent in the state of New Hampshire, where residents have been mourning the fall of the naturally formed Old Man of the Mountain since May 2003. We commemorate that event in this issue, with a story by David Wunsch, New Hampshire state geologist, and Brian Fowler, long-time protector of the Old Man. In “Revisiting the Fall of the Old Man of the Mountain,” they discuss protecting the strikingly human profile of the Old Man. Until last year, it had hung out precariously over a glaciated valley bewitching New Englanders who attempted for more than a century to secure him with pins, cables and turnbuckles — all to no avail. I celebrated the one-year anniversary of the sad loss last week by climbing to his perch — remembering the profile that once watched over New Hampshire.

Thanks to our authors and best wishes to you for your holiday explorations.

Believe your compass and your gas gauge,

Samuel S. Adams
Geotimes Editor-in-Chief

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