Mesa Verde didn't make my original list of stops for our cross country trip! But a friend with roots in the West urged us not to miss it and I'm glad I listened. We arrived in late afternoon and decided to do laundry and go out to dinner saving our exploration of the park for Sunday. We hadn't had Mexican food since we hit the west and got a recommendation at the campground desk for a delightful place called Tequila's. It was colorful with a friendly atmosphere. The chair backs had bright designs of macaws, coyotes, fish, Spanish senoritas, etc. We ordered a combination dish for two that arrived in a pig pot and we felt like stuffed pigs after eating although we couldn't finish it all. It was a fun dinner because it was homecoming at the local high school and several tables of teens dressed to the nines and chattering provided entertainment.
We went to early Mass on Sunday and had breakfast at a cute cafe just down the street from the church, then back to the campground to change and head to the park. Mesa Verde is a national park with extensive and well preserved ruins from the cliff dwelling pueblo Indians who lived there during the middle ages. They abandoned the cliff city around 1300 for reasons that no one knows for sure, perhaps an extended drought that left them starving and seeking water. We took a tour of Cliff Palace with Ranger Jo, a terrific guide and inspired story-teller. She interspersed historical information with stories and words of wisdom from her friend's Indian grandfather. When the remains of a large group of Indians were discovered in the park, a religious ceremony was held to reinter them. No Anglos were invited or allowed to attend. Ranger Jo's friend went, but her grandfather drew a line in the sand and told her not to cross it. The reason? Because women are the life givers; they do not handle the dead. Although the Indians kept no written history, much about their lives and practices has been passed down through oral tradition. We learned a lot about marriage practices, daily life, and my favorite fact, that grandmothers were the most important decision makers. (I mentioned that after we visited the museum at Monument Valley.) The men in the Navajo culture are heads of the clans, but the women own all the property. Bet there wasn't and isn't much divorce in families that practice the ancient traditions! Children belong to the clans of their mothers. Among the clans are the water, sand, corn, parrot, and many others.
The cliff dwellings were fascinating. Spruce House is 90 percent original as it was found by ranchers in the 1800s. What a discovery that must have been at the time. When the dwellings were occupied they housed about a hundred people, although there was additional room for those who came to trade, but lived in the surrounding areas. Just getting to the buildings must have been a challenge. Near the exit stairway was a rock face with hand and footholds carved into the rock. They also used ladders. At Balcony House there were 60 foot ladders to climb and a fourteen foot tunnel to crawl through that was only eighteen inches wide. We skipped the tour of that one.
We hiked the 2.4 mile petroglyph trail and decided not to take our hiking polls because it was only a 170 foot rise. big mistake. The cumulative rise may have been small, but I think we did it five times with all the up and down. The trail also required clambering up and down narrow and sometimes steep rock stairs and between narrow rock walls. The petroglyphs wall was about about a mile and a half into the hike. The images were interesting: handprints, several people in different poses. One figure had a hand to his head. I joked that he looked like he had a headache. There were several animals and some interesting designs. In 1942 four Hopi men visited the site and interpreted some of the signs. A few are clan symbols. Others indicate movements of the people and their separation from other clans. My favorite symbols were the handprints, but there was no interpretation for those. They reminded me of all the arts and crafts children do with handprints.
After the petroglyph wall came the part of the trail that made me dub it the hike from hell. We came to a sign pointing left to the museum, but it was pointing at a rock that was almost as tall as I am. No...they couldn't possibly expect hikers to get over that rock. There was no way around it and the only way was up and over and then a steep climb. There was a metal arrow fastened to the rock to let hikers know the impossible trail was exactly where they were meant to go. The only other alternative was to turn around and go all the way back. Did I mention the trail was along the cliff edge? Yikes! We looked closer and there was a little ledge on
the rock just big enough for a foothold. Another rock to the left gave another foothold, but at that point I had to hoist myself and clamber over the edge on hands and knees. Then we had a steep climb and came to a narrow rock ledge with a cliff drop. Fortunately there was a Juniper tree growing in the side of the mountain. if I hadn't had that to hang onto, I'd probably still be there with my shaking knees. Shortly after that point we reached the ridge where the trail was level and easy for the last three quarters of a mile. Thank God! I was surprised the ranger didn't warn us. Now we know why you have to register when you go on that trail. They want to know where to start searching for the bodies. I have to say, though, I was proud of myself for doing it -- once we got to the end and all the scary stuff was over.
The sun was setting as we drove back down the Mesa. As we came around one turn we saw the snow on the mountain a brilliant pink. It only lasted a few minutes and quickly faded to grey, but what a sight while it lasted. (I took the photo through the window, not the best.) Larry and I both agreed that our day at Mesa Verde was a highlight of our trip.