We had been told by friends and colleagues that Mesa Verde was a special place. But until we saw the stone communities, hiked the canyons, climbed among the cliff dwellings, heard the rangers tell the stories of the Ancestral Puebloans, and took in the majesty of the landscape, it was hard to comprehend its wonder.
We spent two days at Mesa Verde National Park and the lack of internet connectivity…not to mention the lack of televisions in the hotel rooms…helped us focus on the people and their stories. It made for a very special visit for our family.
On the first day, we arrived in time to visit the Spruce Tree House site (see photo above), which is easily accessible and a good introduction to what we’d see the next day. With our appetites for the site visit whetted, we satisfied our appetites for food with a great meal at the Far View Lodge’s restaurant.
The second day was full of hiking and climbing. All four of us began the day by visiting the Long House site, which is the second largest (by 1 room) in the park. We had chosen this tour because good friends had told us that visitors were allowed to walk among the site (as opposed to viewing from the edge at the more famous Cliff Palace). After climbing down into the canyon and then up a short ladder, we found ourselves in this beautiful site. The hour-and-a-half tour seemed to fly by, as we explored the kivas, storage sheds, and stone houses.
When we heard about the “adventurous” tour of Balcony House when buying our tickets, we knew Andrew and Claire would jump at the chance to climb a 32′ ladder, crawl through two 6′ tunnels with 18″ widths, and generally hang out over the edge of a steep canyon. Candice decided that she would pass on the thrills, so I signed up to join the twins. And am I glad I did!
To reach Balcony House we hiked down into the canyon and then climbed up that 32′ ladder. Our ranger, Zack, had given us a pretty good “scare” lecture at the rim, but we plunged ahead anyway. My colleague Dolores McDonagh says that many rangers are frustrated actors, and Zack fit that bill. He gave a great tour with lots of funny asides that kept us all laughing. The beauty of this particular site is hard to overstate. We explored the buildings and took lots of photographs as we crawled around the rooms and kivas.
Finally it was time to leave. Earlier in the day at Long House we had met a couple that had visited Balcony House. The wife told us, “don’t worry about the ladder, and the tunnels aren’t bad…but beware of that exit!” And was she right!
Getting through the tunnels didn’t prove to be a problem. They are 6′ in length, but there’s a break in the middle where you can actually stand. Andrew and Claire took my picture coming out of the tunnel, which we’ve included to give you all a laugh. But then we faced that exit.
Once you are through the tunnel, you have to climb a ladder that’s much steeper than the entrance ladder…and that gets you to a toe and hand hold path. You climb up the side of the canyon for a bit to a set of steep steps…and finally you reach an asphalt path where you can catch your breath and then turn around and gasp at what’s below you. I think there’s a reason they don’t tell you about that exit!
Anyway, as we walked back to our car, Claire, Andrew and I agreed it was the best $9 we had spent on the entire vacation. It was educational, beautiful, exciting, and fun…just what all historic sites should be. We shared stories and photos with Candice throughout the evening, ate an early supper, and played a round of Scattergories before turning in for the night. Just another great day in the American Southwest.
More to come…