Nordenskiold's Site 16
Pit house with kiva
Cliff House and people watching tour
Surrounding landscape
Petroglyph Point Hike
Camping amid the giants (RV'S)

MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK

There is nothing in this world better than a free, hot shower. We arrived in Mesa Verde National Park at the end of our first full week back on the road. Five days is generally my limit for no shower or sponge bath, and we had reached night seven. After waking up in 8 inches of snow the morning of our last day in Black Canyon, we were both at the laugh cry point. When we reached our next destination receiving knowledge of the free, not timed, hot showers, it was exactly what we needed to lift our mental state.

I say 'free' but the campground was way over our budget. At $34 a night, you can bet your ass I took a half an hour in that shower every night to make up for the cost. We snagged a small site on the Hopi loop in a sea of large RV's and prayed no one would be running their generator into the wee hours of the morning.

I was excited to see Mesa Verde, famous for the historic Puebloan cliff dwellings, as I had toured the more 'modern' Gila Cliffs years ago in New Mexico. This was the first park centered around human history that Eric and I have visited, and it reinforced one prominent theme; human history does not interest us that much. We both appreciated this park for the cultural significance and archaeological record it provides, but could not get into it much past that.

Day one we hiked the few paths the park has to offer, and checked out all of the mesa top places of interest. Although we learned new information, and saw things we had never seen before, by the end of the day we were both over-saturated with anthropological history. Luckily, Wetherill mesa and tours of the largest dwelling, Cliff Palace, had opened early in the season, so we were able to experience as much as the park as we really cared to. On our first amble, Long House Loop, we were greeted by a group of wild horses claiming the parking lot as their own outhouse. I enjoyed the mix of natural history and cultural history. This was our first exposure to the earliest settlements of the Puebloan peoples, walking among the pit houses of 400-750 AD. I also added two new birds to my repertoire, the Western Meadow Lark and the Lark Sparrow, and continued to enjoy the hunting behaviors of the other inhabitants such as the Mountain Blue Bird, Spotted Towhee, and the Chipping Sparrow. The songs of the Meadowlark echoed eerily as we walked amid the burned Pinon Pines from the Pony fire of 2000.

Spruce house was closed due to rock slides from the winter, but we were able to see it from the overlook. This path also lead into the Petroglyph Point hike, which was the only area we were both surprised by. Most of the park has relatively 'average' natural views, looking over various mesas with juts of snow capped mountains in the background. A landscape made of mostly of pinyon-juniper woodlands does not inspire me much. However, along Petroglyph Point, we were treated to narrow sandstone stairways leading to expansive mesa canyon views. It was an engaging hike with lots of plant diversity not seen from the roadways. Oh, and I guess the petroglyphs were cool too, but mostly we see them as really old rock graffiti. In these types of parks, I try hard to see from an archaeologists perspective rather than a naturalist's, but in the end, it is hard to compare a canyon that took millions of years to create to a few hundred year old houses. I don't discount this park's significance just because I don't particularly care about humans. I actually wish I felt more connection to these sacred places, but I don't. I would, however, recommend this park to most, especially if you have any interest at all in human development. I would especially recommend Wetherill mesa for a leisurely bike ride.

Day two we started with a view of Cliff Palace from the Sun Temple loop. While we were there we got distracted by rock fall mitigation, the crew was clearing boulders from the main entrance to Cliff Palace, and it was extremely entertaining. This shows how bored we were with the ancient human civilization, I hate to admit. The most interesting fact Eric learned was that all of the archaeological finds on the mesa were preserved due to fire. This meant that the only ruins we saw for the pit houses were from people who managed to burn down their dirt holes. Yup.
We climbed down the series of ladders leading to the ledges of Cliff Palace with a Ranger guided tour. This proved to be very entertaining, not just for the historical value, but the geriatric demographic people watching. As with most of our time traveling in the off season, we are youngins' in a sea of old people venturing through their retirement dream. It was cool to see the ruins up close, but the best thing about the tour was Safety Bob (“have you ever tried to cut down a pinon pine with a stone axe?” said the Interp Ranger. “Yup” replied Safety Bob.)

We spent the last few hours of the afternoon cooking and listening to Led Zeppelin while avoiding talking to all the other T@b campers in the campground. We also bamboozled a Long-Eared Owl while siting around our first campfire of the year. I will remember Mesa Verde fondly, but have not intention of returning in the future.

8/10 would look at burned holes again.

Song: Dazed and confused – Led Zeppelin

Click here to see the whole Mesa Verde National Park album

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