Saturday, September 6, 2008

24-08 Simple Pleasures, Mesa Verde revisited Colorado

Simple Pleasures:

Being retired has it’s own unique simple pleasures. When I used to be in the work a day world, a good cup of coffee, being able to sleep in late on weekends, going out to dinner with friends would make life a little bit better. As a retiree, those simple pleasures come in the form of traveling down a road to a new destination and campsite. Seeing new vistas, mountain ranges, each looking different and new. Going from a commercial campground with all the hook-ups to a campsite in a forest, surrounded by nature. Now those are simple pleasures that refresh the mind and soul.

I traveled about 80 miles west along the southern boarder of Colorado, through Durango and up into the San Juan Mountain range. I found a small forest campground called Target campsite, perfectly laid out and close to the main road. I was even able to get a pull-thru site. Surprisingly I have a really strong Verizon signal for both cell phone and air card. The campsite are immaculate and well worth a stay if your going to be visiting the area.

Historically the campsite is adjacent to the Ute Indian migratory route. After setting up which only took a few minutes, I took a short hike back down the dirt road to the trail head that leads to a site where you can see evidence of Indians traveling through the area. A pine tree, stripped of it’s bark on one side of the tree provided sap for creating a sweet candy like desert. The trees also showed evidence that the Ute’s used to have target practice with their bow and arrows and guns. Small bits of history everywhere if one knows where to look.

Mesa Verde:

Link to more photos:

My trip back to Mesa Verde began with a bit of trepidation as the last time I was there, I was really freaked out by the steep road wrapping around the edge of the mesa. This time, four years later, the access road leading up to the top of the Mesa has been completely repaved and a sturdy guard rail now skirts the steep drop off along the roads edge providing some of us just the extra safety to be able to enjoy the ride up and down the access road.

I arrived a couple days after labor day, as I had checked the web site for the park and it indicated that I would be able to get a discount on the entrance fee after Sept. 1st. Darn, they decided to keep the regular prices in place. Ok, it was only $15 instead of the anticipated $10 entrance fee. Well worth either price.

I signed up for two tours, Cliff Palace and Long House, the two largest cliff dwelling both containing over 100 rooms and at opposite ends of the park, so I’d get a chance to see more of the park than the last time I was here.

I think the most frustrating thing about a tour like these, is that because the Native Indians had no written language, it is very difficult to truly know who these people were. But there are enough clues to wet the appetite that I want to find out more each time I come out west.

As we descended into the canyon heading towards Cliff Palace, along a path chiseled out along the steep side of the cliffs by the CCC’s, I really got a sense for the dramatic location these cliff dwelling are in. We passed signs of hand and foot holds chiseled into the sides of the cliffs by the Indians. Many almost a vertical climb up the cliff to enable the Native Indians to reach there cliff dwellings. Can you imagine carrying food, game, water and building materials up the sides of the cliff. Could they eventually have had 100 ft ladders constructed or rope ladders?

These cliff dwellings were constructed over 1400 years ago. The Mesa Verde site was occupied for over 700 years. Then well before America was discovered by the Europeans, the Indian tribes gradually began to leave around 1200 AD over a 200 year period. Only about 9 sites are available to either tour on your own or with a Park Ranger, the rest of the sites are only viewable from the scenic loop roads on top of the mesa.

I was intrigued to get up close and see some of the physical evidence of the Native Indians having lived here. Like the impression of small corn cobs left in the sand/clay mixture, preserving a moment in time when a human hand had touched this area. Seeing the original plaster on some of the cliff dwelling, easily over 800 years old. Now that’s a good plaster job!

Or being able to touch the rounded out holes in the sandstone floor and the channels connecting about a half dozen of them to catch the seep spring run-off in the back of the cave overhangs. The guide told us that the seep spring could produce about a gallon of water an hour and gourds or clay pottery scoops were found that perfectly matched the rounded out holes. One gallon of water an hour wasn’t much for a couple hundred people living in these dwellings. On the inside of a tall square tower, I looked up through a square door inside the tower. Above, in what would have been a second floor, (the floor no longer exists) the plaster walls on were painted red on the lower section and above it was a very clear pictograph of what looked like a rug with vertical and horizontal lines. There are very few pictographs at Mesa Verde but one was pointed out to us on the overhanging wall of the overhanging cliff. It was a hand print painted in red of a six fingered hand. Very unusual.

I must admit many times the experience one has visiting these historical sites really depends on the knowledge and enthusiasm of the park ranger or guide. The second tour I took to Long House was guided by a Park Ranger named Janet. She tried to convey what it would have like to live back in AD 550. Farming their crops of corn, squash and beans, hunting when game was available. Building additions onto the Cliff Pueblos as the space was needed. The Ranger really brought a sense of what it would have been like and made the site come alive for the time we spent gawking, taking pictures and sensing the people who lived here. Most of whom only lived to the age of 34 or 35.

What’s also neat is that the drive to the top of the mesa and drives around the loop roads and down again into the Wetherill Mesa really provided a sense of the scope of the park. It’s huge. There are hundreds of sites along the cliffs and I even was able to see Ship Rock which is New Mexico, many miles south of Mesa Verde. A ranger told us with one of the recent wild fires on the mesa, two more cliff dwelling have been revealed. How cool.

I’d still say that Chaco Cultural Park in New Mexico is the premier site off all of them combined, but Mesa Verde is definitely on the top of the list of historical sites to see.

I’ve moved up the road just a hop and a skip to Blanding CO (38 miles). I’m staying at the McPhee Reservoir. It’s run by the Forest dept. and they have a basic price of $14 a night plus $8 extra for electric. I think that’s a bit high for the electric, but for a couple of days it’s ok.

The reason I’ve stopped here is that I wanted to visit the Anasazi Heritage Center and I’m glad I did. They have one of the best run museums on the Indian culture. I really enjoyed a special exhibit of photo’s of Native American Indians from young children to their adulthood. Along with the picture montage was a story told in the persons own words of what it is to be a Navaho Indian. Compelling and enlightening. Their collection of artifacts were superb and well displayed.

I got up the next day ready for a day of hiking in Canyon of the Ancients. It includes the Hovenweep National Monument which I’ve already visited and you can do a search on the Blog for that story. Today was more of a behind the scenes tour. Places in Canyon of the Ancients that few people get too. I visited two sites. Lowry Pueblo and Painted Hand Pueblo.

Follow the link to see pictures:

Lowry was the easiest to get too, as the dirt road led to the parking lot which was mere feet from the site. Painted Hand on the other hand could be viewed from on top of the canyon rim, but I chose to hike down into the canyon to get a better look at the tower and of course make sure I had some good pictures to show you. The 1500 square miles contains the highest density of pre-historic and historic sites in North America which includes Mesa Verde and Hovenweep the two largest and best preserved sites. Only one other couple were at each of the two sites I visited, so it was pretty much like being on my own. At Lowry, I was impressed by the vistas looking out over the Great Sage Plain, much of it is now rich irrigated farm land with the mountain ranges poking up from the flat horizon beyond. Silence, complete silence. The only sound I heard was the gravel crunching as I took a few steps then stopped to listen. I broke of a piece of sage and broke it a couple of times to smell the punchant smell. A flock of blue jays swirled by. Their bright iridescent sky blue feathers catching my eye as if to say “look at me, aren’t I the brightest thing you’ve seen today?”.

On to Painted Hand Pueblo. A walk along the rim of the canyon then descending down over the edge of the rocks and boulders, finding foot holds and steps down through narrow crevasses. Hiking over sand stone slag and chipped rock to the tower site. The other couple was looking for the painted hands and we finally found them under a cliff that the tower was built on top of. Small hands, probably that of a child’s hands outlined on the back side of the overhang. Dim with age, they could be over 1,000 years old, still visible. How long do our accomplishments last today? What will history remember of us.

By the way, the more I travel out west, the more I realize I’d like to have a 4 wheel drive truck. Of course an ATV would be just as great as there are so many off road places that one can explore out here. I just know Kelly and Rusty would love it out here as well. It would really be fun to explore all those Forest and off road sites with them. Who knows, maybe one day.


Kelley said...

You are right Uncle Doug, you do need a 4 wheeler for all the places you go, and I am sure one day we will make it out there to enjoy ourselves too.

Suzi D said...

Did you have a chance to visit nearby Chimney Rock Archeological Area? Similar to Mesa Verda NP but on a small scale and without the crowds. Give West Dolares or Mavreeso campgrounds some thought. There was a stand of "virgin" Ponderosa pine nearby and other great stuff to discover. Go to www.forestcamping.comdow/rockymtn/sanjcmp.htm for more details. Glorious area - enjoy.

Roving Reporter - Doug P said...

See Chimney Rock report 16-08 in the July 08 reports.