Day 45: Mesa Verde

My day started in a tent and ended with late night pancakes at Denny’s. I’m officially questioning everything I thought I knew about myself.

Ellie and I rose at 5:45 and caught the sun rising too. The sky was briefly a beautiful assortment of colors, before settling on a blue for the rest of the day. We locked the doors (zipped up the tents) and headed to the road to hitchhike. Within a few hundred yards down, we were picked up by Zak and Zoe who had hot coffee and breakfast for us.

The entrance to Mesa Verde is only 15 minutes from our place, but, besides the Visitors Center, everything else is about a 45 minute drive. We had an early morning tour of Oak Tree House and met the other six people in the tour, the volunteer, and our awesome ranger, Ranger Jackie, at a trailhead. Mesa Verde is a World Heritage Site and there is little that can be done without a guided tour. We learned years ago that the tours for the masses are too crowded and it is well worth paying a little extra for a much more intimate experience. This morning was an ideal example of that paying off. Oak Tree House is considered a back country experience, and although the hike was not long or difficult, very few people get to experience it. The tour is offered a few times a week to groups of ten for this summer. It will not be available again for a few years, allowing the impact those few hundred people had on the sacred site to be restored. I never get tired of learning more about Ancestral Puebloans and Ranger Jackie provided new insight. I really began to understand this community that existed here at Mesa Verde. A community that is so similar to mine. One where dependency and independency intermingle. Where family and neighbors are at the core of our well-being. It was an exceptional tour and one part that made my heart jump a bit and I felt slightly overwhelmed when using the actual hand and toe holds to get down from the mesa into the cliff. These little notches were carved into the sandstone to allow access from the fields atop the mesa to the comfort of home in the cliffs. Using them to decend and ascend, just as the Ancestral Puebloans did hundreds of years ago, was a special opportunity.

Once the tour ended we made the drive to the campground and trailhead of the Point Lookout. It was a short hike, only a mile with a 500 foot elevation gain, but the views were spectacular. We could see exactly where our little piece of land was and the towns of Mancos, Dolores, and Cortez were visible. The mountains that provide our views from CO home, lined the horizon. On the way down we saw a couple hiking up, the only other people on the trail we encountered. We said hi to one another and then she asked if we were the ones with the Illinois plates. Ellie thought that she was going to tell us that Fred had been broken into, but I was sure I was going to get the first negative comment on the array of Democratic presidential canditate stickers I have on the car. We were both wrong. She said that she loves the stickers and told us the is the chair of her county Democratic National Committee. We thanked her for her work for the party and asked her where she was from. Well, lo and behold, she’s the Montezuma County Democrat chair. Well, guess what? Our new place in in Montezuma County! We had a lovely chat and Zak and I were encouraged to hear about the progressive things happening in the county. If you happen to be reading Ms. Dodd, thanks for the warm welcome to the area, we’re excited to work with you and your efforts!

After that hike, we went to the museum and Ellie became a Junior Ranger. She was sworn in by Ranger Jackie and we started chatting. Turns out she lives in Mancos and also spent her Friday night at the Burro Fiesta. At that point, I knew we’d be friends. One of the things I love more than any other aspect is when our path crosses with those of really cool folks. We’re lucky it happened twice today, and even luckier that it’s almost a guarentee they’ll cross again. As they say, meet me in Mancos.

We did the Mesa Top Loop and saw how the progression of pit houses, pueblos on top of the mesa, and cliff dwelling changed over hundreds of years. Simply fascinating to put the timeline of this area together.

Our final adventure of the day in Mesa Verde was the twilight tour of Cliff Palace. Our ranger was the same one we had last year for Square Tower House, Ranger Michael, and his vast amount of knowledge has made both the tours so interesting. He is so talented at making you feel this intimate connection with those who lived here. Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in the park, by far the most popular. Tours are given in groups of 50+, and when we first did it years ago, it felt rushed. This twilight tour was a much smaller group and we were in the dwelling for over an hour. Ranger Michael also provided some interesting theories as to why Cliff Palace was built and then, just a few decades later, completely abandoned with the rest of the entire four corners region.

By the time the last tour ended and we made the long drive out of the park and to our hotel in Cortez it was well after 10. We hadn’t eaten dinner and were all cool with skipping it, but then we spotted, right next door to the hotel, a Denny’s. I’m pretty sure the last time I was in a Denny’s was when I was in high school. But there is something to be said about the Grand Slam late at night. When we first got married, if Zak had told me that there would be a day in my life I would wake up in a tent and eat pancakes at a Denny’s late at night, I would have laughed at him. Yet, here we are, tenting, Denny-ing, and learning a whole lot about a fascinating culture in between.

I am reading a wonderful book now, There, There by Tommy Orange. It is a novel about the struggle some Native Americans have with their identity as they navigate our modern day world and try to stay connected to the rituals and culture of their ancestors. It is phenomenal and I highly recommend it. However, the prologue is not fiction and I believe those 8 pages should be mandatory reading for all. Even if you don’t want to read the whole book, please check it out from your library and simply read the prologue. I’ll end this post with one of the many sections I highlighted in those first pages.

We’ve been defined by everyone else and continue to be slandered despite easy-to-look-up-on-the-internet facts about the realities of our histories and current state as a people. We have the sad, defeated Indian silhouette, and the heads rolling down temple stairs, we have it in our heads, Kevin Costner saving us, John Wayne’s six-shooter slaying us, an Italian guy named Iron Eyes Cody playing our parts in movies. We have the litter-mourning, tear-ridden Indian in the commercial (also Iron Eyes Cody), and the sink-tossing, crazy Indian who was the narrator in the novel, the voice of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. We have all the logos and mascots. The copy of a copy of the image of an Indian in a textbook. All the way from the top of Canada, the top of Alaska, down to the bottom of South America, Indians were removed, then reduced to a feathered image. Our heads are on flags, jerseys, and coins. Our heads were on the penny first, of course, the Indian cent, and then on the buffalo nickel, both before we could even vote as a people—which, like the truth of what happened in history all over the world, and like all that spilled blood from slaughter, are now out of circulation.

There, There

Tommy Orange

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