Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mesa Verde, CO

We left Rexburg, Idaho nearly two weeks ago to start a new job at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma. The shortest route would take us over some of the higher passes of the Continental Divide and through Denver and a number of toll roads. However, I had wanted to see the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings for some time, so we decided to go through southern Utah/Colorado and take a little longer rather than driving with no reprieve. I drove the Uhaul the 134 miles to Malad and then turned it over to my parents to drive the remaining 1300-some-odd miles while I drove the minivan. Debra's brother Barry and his family graciously came along also as part of their summer vacation. I can't say that it would have been much of a vacation, but we were grateful to have their help throughout the move.

Turns out we still didn't plan our trip very well, and the four hours or so that we were at the Mesa Verde National Park were grossly insufficient--although I blame some of that on the National Park Service. When we arrived, we learned that we would have to buy tickets to visit some of the more popular ruins. So much for having an annual pass to visit the National Parks. It did save us the $15 entrance fee to enter the park, but it offered no relief for the $4 a person to visit a cliff dwelling. All the early tours had already been purchased, so we were left with a time slot for the Balcony House at 11:30 a.m. That tour lasted an hour but was not as informative as I would have expected. With all the required driving and going at a snail's pace for the tour, we had little time to view much else, except for a brief glimpse of Cliff Palace from a distance. Of the more than 600 cliff dwellings, we got to see two from a distance and enter one on a "guided tour."
The Balcony House shown here required a 30-foot climb up a ladder as well as some other short climbs and squeezing through a small tunnel. Maybe that is why we were still able to get tickets for the tour. This image shows one of the two large kivas found in the Balcony House.

The dwellings sit under a cliff overhang that protects them from storms. Several of the dwellings, including Balcony House, had a seep spring inside to provide water.

I loved what we got to see, but unless you have a couple days and a few wads of cash, don't plan on seeing all that much. Each of the less-expensive tours is $4 per person. If you have a little more (i.e. $12 to $25/person), you can do "Twilight Tours" or a "Backcountry Hikes".

They say that the National Parks are America's "Best Idea", which I'll agree with to an certain extent, but many aspects of this visit just seemed like an amusement park--pay a lot of money to stand in line for brief moment of pleasure. The National Park Service does a great job at preserving the parks, but I'm convinced that they could do a better job at making the experience more accommodating and enlightening.

If I get to do it again, I'll still do it. In fact their are Anasazi/Ancestral Puebloan ruins all over the Four Corners region. I hope to visit a good number of them during my annual pilgrimages back to Utah and Idaho to visit family, but I think I'll plan to camp rather than stay in the overpriced hotels in the area. That way maybe I'll have enough money to pay to take my family on the tours through the ruins! With luck, I might even see more wild turkeys.