Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Southwestern Swing: Mesa Verde, June 2013

My cousin Martha is a Teacher-Ranger-Teacher at Mesa Verde National Park this summer, so we jumped at the chance to 1. visit her and 2. see a cool new place. It was a win-win on both counts!

Mesa Verde is in southwestern Colorado, near the Four Corners. Initially (based on flight price), our itinerary took us from Boston to Denver to Farmington, NM, where we would rent a car and drive about 2.5 hours to the park. However, by the time we showed up at Logan for our flight, storms in the middle of the country were wreaking havoc on the airline schedules, and it was clear that we would not make our connection in Denver. The person checking us in was, however, able to get us on a late flight from Denver to Cortez, Colorado, which is only about 30 minutes from the park. This necessitated a bunch of craziness with a different rental car company, but eventually someone was found to come and give us a key (to the last available rental car) when we arrived around midnight.

The other thing we had not fully factored into our travel plans was the fact that we were traveling west, right around the longest day of the year. It...just...stayed...light...forever. And Brynna Would Not Sleep. She finally conked out on the tiny plane from Denver to Cortez, once it was pitch black out, around 11:30 PM east coast time. She was so out of her mind by that point that when she and I were separated from Alex on the golf cart ride out to the plane, she became frantic that the plane would take off and leave Alex behind. So, she marched up to every single airline employee—the person at the gate, the traffic-director on the runway, the first officer waiting at the steps of the plane, and finally a quick detour into the cockpit to speak with the pilot—to tell them that her Daddy was coming on the next golf cart and that they had to wait for him. So. A rough travel day was had by all...but by the end of it, we were snugly ensconced in Martha's hogan on the Mesa, and our vacation began.

We started the next day with a tour of Cliff Palace. Here are B and Martha waiting for the tour to begin and working on Brynna's Junior Ranger booklet.

Heading down down down the steps (which were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s):

And down and down and down some more (Cliff Palace is tucked in underneath the mesa edge):

And then up a ladder (the first of many for the trip):

And then our group stopped and our ranger (Mariana, Brynna's new idol) told us a bit about the site. You can see the cliff dwellings behind her. They are about 800 years old.

Here's another view of Cliff Palace:

This is a kiva, a ceremonial and gathering place. There's a sophisticated venting system since a kiva would have a thick wooden roof over it.

Alex and B looking down into a kiva (Alex with a tight grip on B's shirttail):

Then we climbed three more ladders to get out. The ancient Puebloans, however, did NOT use ladders. They used hand and toe holds, like this:

Then we headed off to Balcony House, a different cliff dwelling. To get into Balcony House requires a climb up this 30 foot ladder. B was a very good sport! None of us are on the ladder here, this is just to give you an idea of how tall it is:

Alex and B went up side-by-side, and I came along behind her.

Made it!
This is a defensive tunnel in Balcony House: there's even a big rock in the middle that you have to climb over to make the tunnel even harder to come through. 

After we walked (and crawled) through Balcony House, there were several more ladders to get back up to the mesa top.

Then it was time to use our Colorado rental car to go fetch our New Mexico rental car (since it costs a million dollars to do a one-way rental). B and Martha napped on the way. We hit up a playground in Farmington to get the wiggles out, grabbed some ice cream, and set out once more. We drove past the impressively enormous massif of Shiprock before turning north toward Cortez, where we returned rental car #1 and headed out for some Mexican food (we ate at Tequila's, perfectly adequate). And, of course, the company was exceptional!

The next morning, Alex and I decided to go running. He made it farther and faster than I did (it was HOT, sun-exposed, and at 7000 feet of elevation), and took this picture from the Soda Canyons overlook. If this picture was enlarged a bunch, you'd see Balcony House tucked under that arch just below the mesa top in the middle of the photo.

While we were off being crazy, Martha and Brynna went to complete the junior ranger activities. Here is B getting sworn in as a junior ranger. She is VERY proud (and has been taking the no-littering provision so seriously that she's been picking up cigarette butts wherever she sees them).

Then we walked down to Spruce Tree House, which has a reconstructed kiva. Alex and B climbed down inside and had a look around.

Then it was time to bid Martha a temporary farewell and head off for an overnight at Arches. The story will continue in our next blog post!

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