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Day 14 - Mesa Verde National Park, CO - stalkingmsd@gmail.com [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Day 14 - Mesa Verde National Park, CO [Aug. 20th, 2004|10:00 pm]
Trip Odometer: 3917 mi
37°18’N, 108°25’W

We started off with a pancake breakfast at Arches, then headed to Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado. (Actually, a good amount of this trip was just getting out of Arches – the campsite, being at the end of the park road, is about 20 miles from the park exit). It was another 120 miles to Mesa Verde.

We set up camp in a very nice shaded site, and after finishing check-in we continued to drive into the park. It was about 20 miles from the park entrance to the visitor’s center where you can buy tickets for the various ranger-guided tours through the cliff dwellings. For those who might not know, Mesa Verde is much more about the archeology around the Ancient Puebloans (formally known as the Anasazi – which apparently means “Enemy of my people” in Navajo and clearly wasn’t referring to their ancestors when it was first mistranslated). These are the people who, among other things, decided it’d be a good idea to build cities into the sides of cliffs (a Herculean undertaking to make workable), live there for a hundred years, and then vacate the area. There are three “houses” where the rangers do a guided tour, and several self-guided sites.

After getting our tickets and a quick lunch (this restruant was pretty good, and had dishes such as the “Navajo taco” (aka the open face taco on fry bread) and the fry bread itself. It was quite tasty, we headed down onto the main mesa (there are two major mesas in the park) for a tour of Cliff Palace.

Cliff Palace is the largest dewelling in the park, and is really quite impressive when you think about how much work it must have taken to build all of the houses with just rocks to work with (they used harder rocks to shape the softer sandstone into bricks). Its even more impressive when you realize that they climbed in and out of the dwelling via a series of hand-and-toe holds that scaled up the cliff face (not the ladders, stairs, and paved trails that the parks service put in later).

Next we visited Balcony House, which is just down the road from Cliff Palace and is notable for its inaccessibility (we used 2 32’ ladders to get to it, and had to crawl through a very tight tunnel (about 1.5’x2’). The Ancient Puebloans were apparently really small (if you’ve seen pictures of the dwellings, the “windows” are very frequently the actual doors into the ruins). This was a really fun hike/tour to take, for these very reasons. I was a bit worried when one kid ran across a wall that bordered the cliff-face (About 10” wide, and definitely not even).

We then had the long drive back to the campground, which not only was long in its own right, but also consisted of switchbacks to deal with the elevation changes in the mesas, so it was a lot of fun. We also got our first shower since Salt Lake (Arches NP lacked showers, sigh), and had Macaroni and Cheese for dinner.

The rangers here restored my faith in the parks service, since the tour guides were all very knowlidgable about both their tour and the entire park, and the presenitation this evening was also much better than previous nights (it even covered the same topic as last night – the local plants, and was much easier to follow). Amusing side note, the presenter claimed they were in “the 5th year of an 8 year drought” and didn’t even realize that didn’t make a lot of sense until questioned about it later. She had meant to say they’re in the 8th year of a drought, and there have been 5 major fires in that time…. Close to 90% of the park is burned out forest right now, and it’ll be a few hundred years before it grows back (Pinyan Pine and Utah Juniper just don’t grow that fast).