If I had a kid in the back seat driving into Mesa Verde National Park she would have said “are we there yet?” about ten times. It was deceptive because I pulled up to the kiosk and showed my annual park pass and got my map from the yogi-bear-hatted ranger, and then drove for half an hour before seeing any signs of life. It was not particularly beautiful scenery to my eyes, especially coming from Telluride and driving through green pastures with very happy horses grazing. But I was here to see cliff dwellings and they are hiding until I can climb like Indiana Jane into their midst. Which I did, but first I got the lay of the land and viewed the dwellings from above.
I remember seeing pictures of these amazing structures in school books as a kid and now to get to have them right before my eyes is quite exciting. I take in the museum and the 30 minute informative movie before going on the self-guided tour down to my first “house.” Unfortunately I got caught amongst a bus-load of older, boisterous, French tourists and they ruined my mood with their chatter and flippancy. I wanted to see my first dwelling in reverence and peace, but I gave it up, realizing that to be allowed down there at all was a blessing, and if I had to be there with 50 noisy people, well that was the way it was. I did take my moments of silence and hush at the top in a quiet alcove for viewing the Spruce Tree House. There was something quite mesmerizing about the whole scene and I gave over to it with peace.
I bought tickets for two guided tours the next day (the only way you can see the Cliff Palace and Balcony House dwellings), and then went to bed in the dingy, thin-walled lodge. The morning dawned with smoky views from fires in Arizona as I set off for my 10 am tour.
The ranger leading the 44 of us down into the canyon to see the Cliff Palace was passionate about his job. I am struck by the dedication of these ladies and men that have to deal with a myriad of stupid people everyday. I mean, come on folks, how many times do you have to say “Please don’t touch the walls or dwellings in any way” for adults to understand that that means DON’T TOUCH! But somehow the prevailing idea must be “oh he doesn’t mean ME” because I watched, time and again, as my fellow tourists leaned or sat on the 700 year old walls. OK, enough of my whining, but I was perturbed and had to grit my teeth and nicely remind a few of them they were not supposed to be sitting on the ancient structures. I would make a crappy ranger, shaming people for disregarding the simple request to behave like responsible adults.
It is such an honor to be allowed inside these cliff dwellings. They are sacred to the native people and I totally get what the rangers were saying about having respect for the place. My favorite dwelling was the Balcony House where I got to climb 32 foot ladders hanging over cliffs,
and get on hands and knees to wiggle through an 18 inch tunnel,
and ascend steep cut-out , rock steps with cables (reminded me of Half Dome!). Awesomeness! It is amazing they allow tourists in there at all, especially after seeing all the stupid ones abusing the privilege. But I digress again. The views of my imagination were stirred by visualizing the native people rock climbing, dancing, cooking, hunting and raising families in these remote homes. I loved my trek into the past and wanted nothing more than to see it without 40 other people to really let my imagination soar. It was fascinating, and I am so glad I went. It may not be as fun as Disneyland or as beautiful as the mountains but I was hypnotized with the history and skill, determination, hard work and athleticism of the Puebloans to conceive and bring these dwellings into being.
Driving out of the park I was back to reality and the accomplishments of our generation. A giant cow outside of a rib joint caught my attention and though a clever advertising ploy I just had to laugh and wish those disrespectful tourists would come and climb all over this beefy beast.