Day Two: Mesa Verde National Park

We are now home from our trip and I was unable to keep up with posting while we were gone due to several stops that had terrible internet connections and then just being way too busy to write!  So we will backtrack a little and fill in the rest of our vacation, which BTW, was a big ole blast!

Rich had visited the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde when he was young and has wanted to go back ever since.  He knew that visitors have to purchase tickets to tour the major dwellings  and we didn’t want to miss out, so we got up early with hopes of arriving in time to catch a tour, crossing our fingers that they wouldn’t sell out.

We had a pleasant and uneventful drive to Mesa Verde, grabbed a quick lunch, and headed for the park.  Since “Seniors” can get a pass to national parks for a reduced fee at age 62, Rich was gleeful that I had already had my birthday and could buy the lifetime pass for $20.  We pulled up to the gate at the park and the ranger told us that they had run out of senior passes so we could just go in for free and pick up the pass at the next national park we visited.  How nice was that?  However, he also advised that we go back down to the Visitor Center to get tickets for the tour rather than trying to purchase them once we got to the dwelling.  It was about 1:30 PM and he thought they were already booked up till the 4 PM tour.  Back to the Visitor Center we went and now the first available tickets were for the 5 PM tour.  Oh well, no biggie, we could see more sights till then.  It takes about an hour to drive from the Visitor Center to the Cliff Palace, so we looked around the center and the gift shop, bought Ally a cap and Aidan a shirt, and then started the drive up the mountain.

Along the way, we stopped at the Spruce Tree House, which was closed due to falling rocks and unsafe conditions.  We were able to get some photos from afar, though.  We stopped at several other lookouts and were amazed just imagining what life must have been like for this early civilization. We also visited a museum which showed dioramas of the various phases of development of the culture and the structures.

Later, we met our tour group to explore the Cliff Palace.  This is one of the most well preserved cliff dwellings, along with the Balcony Palace.  In both, you walk down a narrow, steep incline to get into the structure and then you have to climb ladders to get back out.  At the Balcony Palace, one of the ladders is 32 feet tall and we were not sure if Ally could do it so we chose to view the Cliff Palace instead, where the ladders are only 10 feet tall.

In years past, tourists were allowed to climb all over the dwellings and wander around on their own, but because of the damage done, the major structures are now only seen in tours guided by rangers.  Our ranger was very interesting and informative and gave us lots of background about the dwellings and the people who inhabited them.  Ally was surprised to learn that girls her age were often preparing to be married.  🙂

According to the Park Service website, “the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde are some of the most notable and best preserved in the North American Continent. Sometime during the late 1190s, after primarily living on the mesa top for 600 years, many Ancestral Pueblo people began living in pueblos they built beneath the overhanging cliffs. The structures ranged in size from one-room storage units to villages of more than 150 rooms. While still farming the mesa tops, they continued to reside in the alcoves, repairing, remodeling, and constructing new rooms for nearly a century. By the late 1270s, the population began migrating south into present-day New Mexico and Arizona. By 1300, the Ancestral Puebloan occupation of Mesa Verde ended.”

While we were listening to the ranger and awaiting our tour’s turn to go into the Cliff Palace, the group in front of us was being led by a Native American ranger who ended his tour by playing the flute inside the dwelling. We were sitting up on the ridge waiting and had the privilege of listening to his haunting tune from a distance.  Our ranger told us that often Native American groups will participate in tours, bringing instruments to play, sage to burn, and chants to sing.  While these dwellings are important and amazing to all who come to see them, they are especially meaningful and holy to the Native American tribes of the area and beyond.

The kids were very attentive and liked learning about the ancient civilization who lived here.  We could not enter the rooms of the dwelling but were allowed to look through some windows and passageways. Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in the park and has about 150 rooms and 23 kivas (round rooms that were used for ceremonial purposes). It is estimated that about 100 people lived in the dwelling and that it was also used as the center of social and celebratory activities. The tour involved navigating 120 uneven stone steps and negotiating five 8-10 foot ladders on a 100 foot vertical climb. Ally said she was a little scared of the ladders but Grandpa said he’d be right behind her and she did fine.  The final climb was straight up through a very narrow space.  Not for the faint of heart or the claustrophobic!

We spent the night in the town of Cortez and the kids were looking forward to going swimming. Unfortunately, the hotel pool had been filled in and made into a furniture store. Bummer!  We went to dinner at a local cafe and had a mishap when a very full soft drink was spilled all over Ally, me, and my new white cardigan sweater.  Oops.  We cleaned up but we were still really wet so we finished dinner and headed back to the hotel where we found four men sitting on a bench outside our door, drinking and talking.  I told Rich I would have to say something to them if it went on too long but they were not very noisy and all went back to their rooms at a reasonable hour.  LOL

Although the hotel did not have a pool, it did have a laundry room so I decided to do some of our laundry and try to get the soda stain out of my white sweater. I asked the guy at the front desk if there was laundry soap available and he said no, they were trying to get to that point.  Now, seriously, why have a laundry room without detergent?!  He suggested I go across the street to a “real” laundromat and see if they would sell me some soap. I walked over and it was closed but the manager was cleaning up, saw me outside, and let me in to buy some soap and bleach from her machine.  SO nice!  I was very appreciative! I went to the laundry room and discovered that there was ONE washer and ONE dryer.  So much for getting several loads done at once!

We had a good night, despite the no swimming situation.  The kids were really good sports and didn’t make an issue of it.  We headed on to Ouray, CO, the next morning, where we would obtain our fix at the hot springs pool.