This summer we took a whirlwind tour of Colorado via Durango, Pagosa Springs, and Crested Butte. While in Durango we decided to spend a day at Mesa Verde National Park and I am so glad we did. It was incredible. I could easily spend two or three days discovering all the hidden gems this landscape has to offer.
Greeted at the visitor center by a soaring sculpture of a Puebloan scaling a cliff face while carrying his bundles, we were on our way to see for ourselves the cliff faces where these ancient ones carried the necessities of life up and down the bluffs.
Knowing we just had one day in which to see as much as possible, we chose to do just two of the many guided tours that are available. First we went to Balcony House where everyone on the tour had to overcome any fear of tall ladders or tight spaces in order to get under the overhanging precipice to the shelter underneath where our guide imparted his own ideas on the how and why the people who chose to call this home, would build in such a place. Personally, I thought the view was worth millions in real estate value today.
We timed our two tours in order to have time between them to take a quick driving tour through some of the park and to eat a quick lunch in one of the picnic areas. The area we chose was infested with stealthy, robust, bold little rodents. I was thoroughly entertained by their tactics to get to leftover people food. They waited in the shadows, as if they knew all the signs of a family finishing a meal. They weren’t watching those of us still tucking into our pic-a-nic baskets, they were eyeballing the moms and dads who were wiping grubby little hands and putting tupperware away. As soon as the soon would be providers of squirrel lunch vacated the table, those little furry darlings scurried up to scavenge any and every crumb left on, under, or near the recently abandoned outdoor restaurant.
Our next stop on the tour was the large Cliff Palace Dwelling. A downward climb on steep steps, obviously CCC work from back in the day, both Joe and I pondered about the safety measures taken and not taken in the park. It seems these days the views are often hindered by fencing, signs, and other necessities to keep people from doing silly things. There seemed to be a noticeable lack of such notifications in the area. The one admonition we were given over an over was “please don’t touch the rocks in the dwellings.” Simple right? It’s a kindergarten level instruction, keep your hands to yourself while you’re here. When you leave you may touch anything you want. Yet over and over I watched as people rubbed, touched, leaned on, and practically caressed the stone. As I stood there with my arms crossed over my chest lest I break the rule, my inner 97 year old woman with a fist shaking in the air was screaming at these people “You Kids, GET OFF MY NATIONAL TREASURE!” Joe managed to take me away and get me out on a trail before I slapped a grown person’s hand and got arrested. I’m ornery like that. The oils on people’s hands turn the stone black. I want this beautiful place that has withstood the test of time and mother nature, to be enjoyed by my great great grandchildren, without the greasy stains please.
We learned about kivas and discussed theories, of which there are many, on why the Ancestral Pueblo chose to build here and then why they chose to leave after living in the area for 700 years. This people, this tribe lived here more than twice as long as we have been the United States of America. Whether it is true or not, our Park Interpreter shared a story that tradition is that it was time to move on. There is no great story of drought or war, just that the people are in-tune with nature and when it is time to move, it is felt. I kind of like that version, the story of wanderers. I watch as my children are becoming wanderers. I live for their stories and adventures while I keep trying to find ways to wander myself, because I feel it.