A Day in Mesa Verde

6 07 2012

Mesa Verde, Spruce Tree HouseOur drive to Mesa Verde is a short 15 miles from Mancos State Park.  It seems to take longer to drive from the park entrance to the visitors center than it took from the campground.  The Far View visitors center has a small gift shop, history exhibits and most importantly, sells the $3 per person tickets for entry into the most well known exhibits.  We secure tickets for the guided tour of Balcony House at 3:30PM.  We also elect to buy tickets to tonight’s twilight tour at Cliff Palace.  The twilight tours provide unique access in a small group (only 20) of visitors led by a guide portraying a character important to early Mesa Verde exploration or reconstruction.  Tickets for the twilight tour are $10 per person.

After leaving the visitors center, our first stop is at Spruce Tree House.  The hike down to the ruins is paved and in places very steep.  Park Rangers are available to answer questions and keep the visitors from getting too close to walls and balconies.   A fully reconstructed kiva is busy, with kids and adults scurrying up and down the ladder through the small hole in the roof.  Seems very claustrophobic and none of our group ventures into the ancient ceremonial pit room.

From the Spruce House we take a quick driving tour around Cliff Palace loop, stopping at the picnic area for some lunch before continuing to Mesa Top loop.  At 3:30 we set-off with our park service guide for the decent into Balcony House.  The entrance to Balcony House is mostly by stairway, constructed by the CCC.  After a very educational tour we depart Balcony House via a small tunnel and several ladders which was probably the original way in and out of this magnificent cliff-side abode.

After a refreshing cold beer at the café near Spruce Tree House, we explore the Mesa Top loop stopping at most of the parking areas to see the pit houses, view Square Tower House and the cross-canyon area for Cliff Palace. The views across the canyons are vast and must have poised an amazing challenge to the early inhabitants.  With the sun beginning to dip low on the western sky, we arrive at the Cliff Palace for our twilight tour.  We watch as the last large group of visitors exit the ruins leaving only 20 of us awaiting our guide.  At exactly 7:15, “Sam”, a native Navajo Indian who was a supervisor of the reconstruction workers in 1930 arrived to be our guide.  Sam was dressed in period clothing, a stunning black velvet coat, with a red and black slash, simple tan pants and moccasins.  His silver belt, huge turquoise and coral necklaces and turquoise and silver bracelets were all beautiful.  Sam told us the story of working at Mesa Verde in the 1930’s when much of the reconstruction was done by local Navajo Indian tribes.   He also explained that the “white” archeologists of the 1930’s have several facts of Mesa Verde wrong – namely that the people didn’t “disappear”, they simply moved on – and today are the ancestors of the Navajo, Ute and Hopi tribes that still inhabit areas in the southwestern US.  The tour experience was a wonderful, thought provoking hour and a half.  At the end, Sam urged each of us to wander through the ruins, or just sit quietly and enjoy the long shadows as the last sunlight found its way into the canyon alcove.  Leaving the park at nearly 10pm, we were lucky to find the Millwood Junction http://www.millwoodjunction.com/ in Mancos still open and serving dinner.  Tomorrow we head home, with a stop at East Fork campground near Pagosa Springs.  More from there.

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