2: Journey & Set-up

Oaxaca, Mexico
© L. Nicholas
Xerophytic Plants

On other trips south from Chicago to Oaxaca, we described a two-day journey from winter to spring (Arkansas) to summer (Laredo). This year, winter was more persistent in North America so that when we passed through Arkansas, spring had barely sprung and south Texas was still blessedly comfortable rather than sweltering as it sometimes is.

Nevertheless, once we crossed the border and moved south into Mexico, the weather turned warm and the xerophytic and flowering vegetation along the road (see above image and Photo #1 below) provided a vivid and continuous reminder that we were now far from the chill of Chicago’s March.

Decades ago, when we first started driving to Oaxaca for fieldwork, the trip in Mexico alone took three days (without driving at night) because the main highways passed through every significant town on the route. Now, we can cover the same distance in a day and a half, thanks to the many toll roads and bypasses that skirt around Mexico’s major population hubs.

The most significant of the new roads is the so-called Arco Norte, the long-sought-after highway that routes traffic around the east side of Mexico City. Since driving through Mexico’s capital—clogged with traffic almost every hour of the day—was one of the more challenging parts of the trip, we see the completion of the Arco Norte, which routes traffic across Central Mexico’s stepped highland plateaus, as a major advance.

Arriving in Mitla on Sunday afternoon, Linda and I hit the ground running and have barely stopped since. We had houses to rent for our team, permissions to secure, and a local crew to hire, as well as a car to unpack and our own household to organize. Because this first week often involves so many roundtrips from Mitla to Oaxaca and is often hard to anticipate, we generally plan to arrive without any other members of the crew so that we can take care of the necessary business without making others wait anxiously for all the essential arrangements to fall into place.

Fortunately, we have many friends and colleagues in Mitla and Oaxaca, and we're able to rely on those relationships to get started. In a matter of days, we had three houses rented, a crew of Mitleños (the majority having worked with us before) signed up, and our permit process on track. By the end of the week, we visited Terrace 276 at the Mitla Fortress (with local officials—see Photo #3 below), where we plan to excavate, and had checked and fixed the road (in part, it's barely a set of tire tracks) that we use to reach the base of the Fortress every day from our houses in Mitla.

A week after our arrival in Mitla, we traveled to Oaxaca’s airport to pick up the two Iowa State University interns (Katelyn and Eric), who will be assisting us this season. Katelyn, a scientific illustrator, will be drawing key artifacts from this year’s excavations and managing our lab (see Photo #4 below), and Eric will be assisting us in the field. Eric is a dual major in scientific illustration and geology, and so he'll be getting practice for both of his interests. Later as semesters end, four more colleagues, who will participate in the fieldwork and key aspects of the analysis and who have been part of our team in Mitla during prior years, will join us.

More soon,

© L. Nicholas
© L. Nicholas
Officials Visit the Site
© L. Nicholas
Mitla Lab