When I was in junior high school, I went on an awesome road trip with my dad. We drove from west Texas to the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, stopping frequently to take in historically and geographically significant attractions. As we camped and hiked and explored ancient civilizations throughout the Southwest, lessons from history and social science books came alive to me. It seemed that the past was speaking to us from the ruined cities and primitive artifacts, even from the Earth itself where I witnessed the remains of a great forest turned to stone, but the greatest and most lasting impression upon me was made in the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.

Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park, Colo...

Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, USA: it is the largest of about 4000 preserved Cliff Dwellings (circa 800 years old) built by ancient Pueblo people (Anasazi) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cliff Palace is the ruins of the largest cliff dwelling of the Pueblo Indians in North America and very visible footprint of left behind by people who seem to have vanished from the Earth. The structure of over 150 rooms and more than 20 kivas is majestic and surreal. The mysterious abandonment of the settlement over 700 years ago elevates the surreal to just a little bit creepy. I remember trying to sleep after touring Cliff Palace and how my mind continuously raced back to the thought “What happened to all those people?!” and not being able to block out the question. Even today, looking through photos of the abandoned edifice for an image to include here visions of tragedy and mass exodus are difficult to overcome.

Ascaya development, Henderson County, Nevada

The footprint left on the Nevada landscape by Ascaya in Henderson County. (Photo Credit: Michael Light)

Unfortunately, we don’t have to look all the way back to the Anasazi culture to find the stark, standing ruins of civilization abandoned to the wilderness. Our modern society is leaving its own lasting impression upon the landscape and this impression may be even creepier than that of the ancients.Two days ago, Lyra Kilston wrote for about Economic Collapse Seen Through Aerial Photos of Abandoned Mansions and the work of aerial photographer Michael Light. The article features about a dozen images of the abandoned luxury housing development in Henderson County, Nevada. The images of the leveled hilltops and deserted, paved streets of the Ascaya development reminded me of the images I had seen over a year ago of the abandoned development in Rio Vista, California and other parts of the country. In the United States, between 13,000 and 19,000 dwellings stand vacant according to the Census Bureau.

Rio Vista, CA

Rio Vista, California: Construction was halted in November 2008 when developer Shea Homes abandoned the project.

That’s a lot of wasted housing. If you look at the data detailing the specifications of those un-lived-in housing units, you’ll find that the vacancies aren’t low-end, either. More evidence, if you ask me, to support Louis CK’s description of our current generations’ level of frantic consumerism, but I’ll let him explain that himself.

What do you think of this? Is this the kind of footprint we want to leave on the planet? What will people think of us when they study the world we left for them 800 years from now? With small numbers of people affecting the environment so drastically, how does it make you feel about the small measures of prevention you practice in your own life? I am very interested in your thoughts about this subject.