I apologize in advance. Like yesterday, this post is a bit picture-heavy. I had in mind to do a daily Top 10. Which became 20. And today is 33. But, honestly, yesterday and today felt like the most condensed days of the trip - like we packed the most in. Other things may have been bigger, like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but we had multiple days at those places, so I can spread it out a bit.
And besides, if you're not interested, just pass on by ;D
Generally, none of us are fans of spending a lot of time driving. I tend to feel that it's lost time. Wasted time. But God graciously gave us all a large measure of tolerance for the hours on the road. It helped that everything was so very different than home, that the weather was nearly always fabulous, and that we were all having so much fun :D
And today's jaunt was relatively short, by comparison, from Moab south-east into Colorado to...
Mesa Verde was one of my Absolute Must See's. I vividly remember the fascination and wonder I felt when we were here - I think - in 1976. Climbing in and out of the cliff dwellings thrilled me. I just knew the boys would love it.
And I loved the fall colors as we climbed up onto the mesa. Another gloriously beautiful day - truly an answer to prayer. In fact, for the first two weeks of the trip, everywhere we went locals would tell us that summer was hanging on longer than usual this year. Of course, that meant it was a bit hotter than we might have liked, but better that than rain!
There are several cliff dwellings that anyone can walk to, but the truly spectacular ones are only accessible via ranger-led tours. Again, coming off-season was a real bonus. Even though this day was National Public Lands Day, and thus free entry into National Parks, Monuments, and Historical Sites for everyone - we didn't have crowds to contend with, for which I was very thankful. During peak times you can only buy tickets for one tour per day, but we were able to do two.
Kerry wanted to stop by the museum first, as much for the architecture as the contents. But once we got there, we decided to save the most-likely-air-conditioned museum for later in the day...
... and headed down the trail to Spruce House, one of the cliff dwellings open to everyone. The boys looked on in amazement at these 800-900 year-old homes.
This was the only place we saw a kiva - a ceremonial room - that we could go into.
This one is likely a reconstruction, but on one tour our guide pointed out that the kind of wood they used (juniper?) has some kind of resin in it that termites won't touch, so some of the wood in the dwellings is truly hundreds of years old (dendrochronology-dated) and not decomposing. Amazing.
We met Ranger Paula above the well-known Cliff Palace for our first tour. You should hear the warnings they give you. The tours are strenuous. Not long, but steep. And they will tell you exactly how many vertical feet you will descend, and ascend, and exactly how many steps and ladders you will climb. Alrighty then!
To get to the Cliff Palace you actually have to climb down below it to get around the cliff, and then climb back up to it. At this point we were below the vantage point from the pic above, and a bit to the left. The ranger tucked as many of us back into the shade as possible while she gave her first talk.
Below, you can see the tour group following us, where we had just been, and above them, where our tour began. We descended directly behind that lookout point, had to come around and below the large cliff face, and then up a ladder to reach the Cliff Palace. No problem for our boys, but I wouldn't try it with little kids.
Here's a kiva with the roof off. I'm sure there is something symbolic about the room being circular. I think the design is even more interesting, in relation to the fire. There are ventilation holes around the circle to bring in fresh air, and the largest has a large thin rock set up as a deflector, so the wind wouldn't blow out the fire.
Climbing up and out was more of an adventure. Can you see the steps cut into the rock? It's a narrow, twisty route - lots of fun! If you look very closely to the right of the boys you might be able to see some hand and toe holds cut into the rock and used by the original inhabitants.
And, yet another ladder. Definitely not part of the original design ;D
Whew! That was awesome, but the best is yet to come. But first, a breather...
I saved Balcony House for last because I knew the boys would really, really dig it. And our guide, Ranger Jo, absolutely was the icing on the cake. She was quite a character, and had a ton of stories about a local Indian friend of hers called Grandpa Eugene. You can sure tell when somebody loves their job - makes all the difference in the world.
I don't know if all boys are as competitive as mine, but it's a constant battle to get them not to rush to be first, or in front, etc. But on tours like this Tate needs to be in front to hear the ranger. I'm all about teaching him to advocate for himself respectfully. At Mesa Verde we arrived early for our tours, introduced ourselves to the rangers, and explained Tate's hearing loss and what would be helpful. While everyone was understanding, Ranger Jo took it and ran with it. She made all three boys her special Assistant Rangers and kept Tate right at her side the whole time, making sure he could see her face the whole time, and pointing things out to him, as well as everyone else. She was awesome.
Like Cliff Palace, the approach to Balcony House involved descending below, to climb into the site. That's Ranger Jo with Wyatt, Tate, and Gunnar right on her heels - the first ones up the 32 foot tall, double ladder.
Approaches to Balcony House were narrow, for good reason - defense. If you enemy can only approach one at a time, he can't easily overwhelm you.
Big ladder, small passage, small ladder.... and into the site ;D
Gunnar, peeking through a window, from one side of Balcony House to the other.
If I remember right there were different areas for different clans.
Getting out, via the original entrance/exit, involves this narrow tunnel. A lot of hands have been used for balance I think - see the dark smudges?
Of course, the gate was added by the Park Service to keep out trespassers and vandals, but the narrow hole is original. Again, your enemy can't swarm in as a horde, but must come through one by one. Pretty smart. And a tight squeeze at that. Many of the people on the tour had to push their backpacks ahead of them.
The boys loved this part. Even Gunnar, who can be a bit squeamish about heights, did really well. This ladder is vertical, and the steps cut into the rock above it are nearly so.
That's Wyatt, reaching the top, with Tate right on his heels.
Yes, it really is as steep as it looks, but the chain was quite secure. Still, if you're not a fan of heights, I'd give this one a pass. And definitely not for little kids.
I was glad to see Gunnar, with Kerry and his brothers gone ahead of him, not letting fear get the best of him. He just kept plugging. I had talked with him ahead about just moving one thing at a time. If you're scared, don't stop, but just move one hand, then one foot, then the other hand, etc. Though all the ladders and footholds were very secure, this was all nearly completely vertical and felt very exposed. "The fun kind of scary," in my family :D
Yes, it's a long, long way down!
Bringing up the rear - and making sure no one was left behind - came Ranger Jo. We waited to give her a special thank you :D
There was much, much more of the park to explore, but we did most of it from view-points like this one. The heat (in the 80's) and the elevation (over 7000') really make a difference to folks like us that live in cool climates and at sea level! I mean, we did fine. We brought plenty of water everywhere we went and were quite capable of doing the hikes and exploring we wanted to do, we just really noticed ourselves feeling the fatigue more than we would at home.
You can see it on the boys' faces here. Well, that and the sun was in their eyes ;D But they're definitely reaching their saturation point for the day!
The boys loved the telescopes... especially the free ones :D Gunnar could see across the canyon to Cliff Palace, with other tour groups being escorted through. Had we gone at this time of day we would have been baking.
Is someone drooping, just a little? Good thing we parked so close ;D
Heading back down to Cortez, to our hotel, we got a bonus... right on the side of the road. I had wondered if we'd see any snakes and hoped - if we did - they wouldn't be anywhere near the boys, so this was perfect. A nice close look from the safety of the van! I can see that it's a rattlesnake, but have no idea what specific kind. Anyone? Uncle Google says it's a Prairie (Western) Rattlesnake.
As much as possible we tried to find unique places to eat - diners, mom and pop places - so as cruised through Cortez we kept our eyes open. Jack and Janelle's Country Kitchen did not disappoint - good food and lots of it. Our hotel, on the other hand, was underwhelming. But again, at least it was clean, so I'll roll with it.
Day 8 Miles : 195 Total : 2165