Fascinating! Mesa Verde National Park – A Step Back in Time
Late summer, yeah, the best time of the year for a vacation! School has begun for the younger generation. This allows a couple of baby boomers to own the road and never wait in line for anything~our perfect recipe for a relaxing vacation!
To explore Mesa Verde National Park was to travel back through time. It is the nation’s richest archaeological preserve, where amazing cliff dwellings and more than 4,000 ancient sites brought us into the heart of a fascinating culture of the Ancestral Puebloan people. The Navajo word Anasazi is no longer used or favored. “Ancestral Puebloan” indicates that these people were the ancestors of the modern Pueblo people of the Southwest. These people did not vanish or disappear, however, they did leave these dwellings around 1300 A.D. and no one knows FOR SURE why they left.
Staying at the Far View Lodge, located conveniently in the park, allowed us time to reflect on what we learned. And we definitely learned every day. The park rangers were very knowledgeable and informative – on both self-guided and ranger-guided tours. Sitting outside on our private balcony, we could just ‘sit’…..’ponder’….. ‘be’. Listening to elk bugling and birds singing at the beginning and end of each day helped our minds wrap around the idea of harmony, peace and balance. The accommodations were nice, nothing fancy and in my husband’s words, “kinda like a dorm room”. But that was OK! No television gave us ample time to read and listen to Indian flute music. It gave us time to ask ourselves some questions: Who were these people? How did they build such magnificent homes? Why did they leave? Could I have lived this way and survived?
Three of the cliff dwellings require tickets and are guided by a park ranger. Tickets? you say? Hey, only $3.00/person! If you choose to go on a guided bus tour, it will cost around $25/person. We’re cheap and we don’t like confinement, so we chose the $3.00 tickets and were pleased with our choice.
Our first dwelling tour was CLIFF PALACE, a 1 hour tour involving descending uneven stone steps and climbing five ladders for a 100 ft. vertical climb. If you’ve read “Lucidity”, by Angela Burke,(www.angelaburkebooks.com) you will be familiar with this cliff dwelling. Jack takes Raya there after he gets permission from an old professor. “Raya knelt on the blanket, visions of women decorating pottery and children playing in the courtyards above the ceremonial kivas flashing before her eyes.” We could almost see the ‘faint light’ that Raya saw flicker above the entrance of one of the kivas. I have to admit, we were hoping for some kind of sign that the spirits of the Ancestral Puebloans were there with us…….however, our park ranger’s demeanor was a bit like a drill Sergeant and this was not conducive to having a spiritual experience. The palace was magnificent!
BALCONY HOUSE was our second guided tour. This one hour tour involves climbing a 32 ft. ladder, crawling through a 12 ft. long tunnel, and climbing up a 60 ft. open cliff face with stone steps and two 10 ft. ladders to exit the site. Our park ranger guide on this tour was very different than the CLIFF PALACE guide and we were very pleased. We learned that the Ancestral Puebloans were farmers, who grew corn, beans and squash on the mesa tops while they lived in the cliffs during the final century of their occupation. I kept wondering WHY they moved from the mesa tops to the cliffs….were they hiding? was something/someone threatening them to hide in these cliffs? After visiting the cliffs, I made my own judgement. It was dang hot up on top of the mesa in the summer and snowy and cold in the winter. A cliff dwelling offers air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter and protection from the elements. I think I would have chosen the cliff!
These tours were our first morning at the park. We then chose to see the Spruce Tree House dwelling, which is self-guided. We found it to be a beautiful dwelling and were surprised we didn’t need a ticket to see it. Lunch at the Spruce Tree Terrace was relaxing and gave us time to reflect.
Later in the day, we took the Far View Trail which lead us to a mesa top village, an ancient farming community. Nearly 50 villages have been identified within a half square mile area as well as a reservoir and system of ditches to collect and deliver water to the residents. Unbelievable!
We began our second full day with a 90 minute guided tour to the LONG HOUSE cliff dwelling. Our tour guide was a likeable park ranger, but he tended to shout instead of speak. Oh well, he was a wealth of information. We hopped on the tram for a short trip to the trail head. This hike was about 3/4 mile with two 15 ft. ladders and a 130 ft. gain in elevation. It definitely looked like a loooooooooooooonnnnnngggg house! Amazing! We always are amazed at the number of kivas at each site. The kiva is the ceremonial place for the people, but we were also told that in the harsh winters, many of the puebloans may have lived in the kiva because of its warmth. Lightning and thunder welcomed us to this dwellling and rain sent us on our way. Be prepared!!! We had a backpack with raincoats ready, and we needed them. Tourists with no gear were soaked to the bone and cold as the temperature had dropped as well. Before we left the Wetherill Mesa Area that day, we walked to another cliff dwelling called STEP HOUSE. We were the only ones there……and that felt unbeliveable…..more lightning, thunder and rain. We watched the rain pour down from the top of the cliff and we thought about how happy they Ancestral Puebloans would be to receive this precious water!
Our final night at Mesa Verde National Park…..time to contemplate……..view the big desert sky and watch the setting sun……listen once again to the elk bugling, notice some wild horses in the distance and thank God for creating this fascinating world we live in……………
Driving back…..from Cortez we took Hwy 145, part of the San Juan Skyway…..America’s most beautiful drive. AGREE!!!!!