Today we are heading make west about 1 1/2 hours from here to visit Mesa Verde National Park. Within this national park are over 4,000 sites with 600 of them as cliff dwellings. The Indians made this area home for about 700 years in between 600 AD and 1300 AD. Today I have decided to drive and I am beginning to feel a little more confident. We had a little bit of a late start as Shyla was not waking us up to relieve herself and so we did not reach the entrance to the park until around 11 am. The distance from the entrance to the visitors center is 16 miles and the road winds up, down and around mountains and even has a tunnel that goes through the mountain. The road is narrow and steep but is a well maintain blacktop surface. Arriving at the visitor center we signed up for one of the cliff dwelling tours that has a nominal fee of $3 per person. They have both self-guided and guided tours, with the guided tours costing around $3 each. It is lucky we arrived when we did as we caught the last tour at the end of the day at 4:30 pm. The Ranger provided us with a touring route of sites to see until the time that we were arranged to meet our guide. With a plan in place we heading out.
Our first stop was the picnic area near Spruce Tree House. We found ourselves a shaded spot and pulled out the grub. It is incredible that even though it is almost unbearably hot in the direct sun that when you step into the shade you don’t even notice the heat. The air is so dry compared to where we live in Texas. It does not matter whether your in the sun or shade. There is so much humidity in the air you might as well face the fact that you are in a sauna all the time. Here the heat comes only from the sun. Out of the sun, out of the heat. And then to reward us even more……..a gentle breeze would occasionally pass by blowing a wisp of cool air by.
After our picnic in the park so to speak, we head over to Spruce Tree House. This is one of the self guided tours to a cliff dwelling. The path was relative easy as it was paved and straight down at probably 15-20 grade. Knew it was going to be bugger bear on the return trip. At the bottom of the path prior to dwellings a ranger explained where the Indians retrieved their water supply. The sandstone in the cliffs acts as a natural sponge and cleanser. The small amount of rain that is received soaked into the ground and stone until it found an empty pocket. Here the filtered water stayed cool and clean and the Indians would retrieve the water as needed. Since the water is very scarce here these dwellings and pockets of water would have been as valuable as any gold and they would have defended them from neighboring tribes. We also learned that these tribes were governed by the women and not men. Maybe that is why they flourished and built things to last….
We adventured around the site a bit and then braced ourselves for the walk back up……straight back up. Luckily it was not too long of a walk but I was so winded I had to stop twice along the way.
Our next stop was to drive the Mesa Top Loop. This was a 6 mile loop and had 14 stops along the way for view either cliff dwellings or surface dwellings. When you look at the dwellings you have to ask yourself how they ever were able to get up and down but also bring all those rocks in to even build it. They are truly magnificent when you consider how old they are and how well preserved. Some of the sites date back over a thousand years. I loved and appreciated how the park is designed to allow you to get up close and personal with the structures. Most places I have been before really keep you at a distance and it is hard to really take it in. Here even the surface dwellings are within reach, housed in open metal structures that just keep the weather out. It is amazing that opening the sites up like this actually keeps everyone conscientious of how they treat the area. I did not see one person abusing or even attempting to do anything that would cause harm to these precious sites. I think it is because when you try to conceal or hide something away then it makes it that more appealing to get at and then possibly causing damage.
Towards the end of the driving tour the afternoon storms began to brew which included rain, thunder, and yes lightening that struck somewhere very close to us. We later found out that it actually struck at the spot of our final destination and the tour was forced to stay in the dwellings almost an hour waiting for the storm to pass. These cliffs are like lightening rods magnified by 1000. As we were ending our tour and began heading to the paid tour we passed an area in which all the trees had been burned. As far as you could see they were all black. Andrew captured a couple of really great shots here.
At a little before 4:30 pm we showed up for the Cliff Palace tour. Cliff Palace is one of the largest and most toured dwellings as it is easier to access for the elderly or very young (or the faint at heart like myself). I was little apprehensive….heights and knowing we were going to climb down and then back up the cliff. The tour started with some steep steps down and through a narrow passage between two boulders. I made it down however and felt so proud of myself that I had not chickened out. However what still remained was the trek back up……and not back the way we came…..but up 100 ft of man made wooden ladders. However for now I was safe and was able to take a breath and relax. Our ranger was extremely entertaining and very well knowledgeable. You could tell he was exactly where he loved to be doing what he loved to do. This is where we found out most of the information about the Indians. The tour of the ruins itself was actually short and we did not get to explore as much as I hoped but it is understandable. It was great knowing that we were standing in the dwellings in the cliff and either directions was about 100-200 ft. The route back consisted of climbing those ladders I mentioned previously between a narrow spit in the rock to the surface above. I made it …..yes!!!!! Andrew took a picture of me ascending the ladder as proof, however the angle straight up like that is not so flattering to the backside…..so we will leave that in our own archives!
The day seemed to be getting late and so we decided to head on home. However alone the way back through the park we decided to take the Fire Lookout turn off that we past as we entered the park. We were so glad we did. At around 8500 ft it is the highest point in the park and this provided for some spectacular 360 views of the park (and guess why is the perfect location for the fire lookout as they have fires we were told almost daily during the summer season from the lightening). The brush here was very unusual. I wonder if it possibly could have been burned from a fire leaving just the wood, however it did not have the signs of burned wood. However up the path to the lookout two totally different brush co-existed giving for a very unusual appearance. The picture of the road is that of the one meandering from the entrance to the end of the park. Andrew however was able to capture some remarkable views of both the area and the horizon.
With all the beauty it was hard to leave but we knew it was time so we headed back in our truck the way we had come. As we exited the tunnel through the mountain we decided maybe we had time for one last picture and as Andrew took his of the cars coming through I decided it was time for another picture in picture moment.