Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mesa Verde

I don’t like to constrain my future—especially when it comes to wandering the back roads in our beloved condo-on-wheels.  But I’m not sure I’ll ever return to Mesa Verde National Park.  Don’t get me wrong—it is an amazing place to visit; a place that will stay actively in my pondering of great experiences; a place that echoes of an extraordinary people from a time before.  But I’m pretty sure that this first visit to Mesa Verde will fall into that special category of “once-in-a-lifetime” great events.

My probable non-return is based on my own shortcomings:  my overpowering fear of heights.  From Mesa Verde’s park entrance and pay booth, a twenty-three mile road must be navigated to visit this country’s best-preserved cliff dwellings.  Without question it is a great road; a beautiful drive; and I, in particular, paid special attention to the brilliant yellow stripe that ran smack dab in the middle of it, snaking those twenty-three miles of switchbacks and grades. 

As I waited at the park entrance’s pay booth window for maps and receipt, I looked up at the ribbon of road (and sighted what looked like toy cars wrapping the edge of the mesa).  I wondered, with a bit of a catch in my throat:  what are we getting ourselves into?
But I did it.  I drove the twenty-three miles, several of which had no guard rail separating the trusty Suburban from the extreme (my story, my adjective) drop-off at road’s edge:

With a stop at the Visitor’s Center to purchase $3 tickets for the guided tour to Cliff Palace, I thought the only challenge ahead was the road behind.  I was wrong.

At the designated meeting place, the rick-man and I joined a small group of $3 ticket holders to participate in the Cliff Palace guided tour.  Our excellent tour guide began his story with the logistical information of the tour, emphasizing the descent and ascent required to visit the cliff dwelling.  He reminded the group of the altitude and of the exertion required, and provided clear advice to those with heart or other health-limiting conditions that this was the place to walk away. 

Our tour guide pointed down to two tour groups ahead of us; the most visible group in this photo is the circle of tourists currently experiencing the Cliff Palace tour:

Less visible in this photo (in the upper right corner) is a series of ladders attached to the side of the cliff.  As the tour guide began the story of the cliff dwellers, I was still processing his warning that these ladders were the required “exertion” for exiting the tour.  I looked around at my tourist companions.  My physical fitness appeared better than most in our group.  But I could feel my knees shaking and a weakness in my legs that had nothing to do with my physical fitness level.
The tour guide continued the preface to our tour, and I continued to fixate on the partly visible “path” down to the Palace.  I looked up and over to the distant, just visible, top of the ladder sequence.  At that moment a head appeared at the top of the ladder, pulling a body up over the edge of the mesa and walking away onto the table-top.  I noted that the successful ladder climber (a woman) appeared sans harness or other fool-proof safety equipment.  The weakness in my legs was making standing on level ground a bit of a challenge.

I looked over at the rick-man, my usual partner in height-related fears.  He looked way too relaxed and excited about the exploration ahead, hanging onto every word of the tour guide as tightly as I would cling to those ladders.  I knew I couldn’t walk away.  Even for me, that would be too selfish.

A once-in-a-lifetime visit to Cliff Palace provided a holy experience—a moment in time separate from this twenty-first century: 

I won’t ponder who these people were—I’ll wonder who these people are.  “Who are you—who, who.  Who, who.  (you know the tune)
Special thanks to an outstanding tour guide.  His enthusiasm for sharing the human and natural history of this special place gave witness to his heart-felt appreciation for what he so carefully showed us.

I will remember, as long as memory serves, this special day.  My life journey will have more to ponder from experiencing the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde—even if only this once.  But I really don’t like to constrain my future.


  1. Mesa Verde is where Audrey's cousin discovered her fear of high places. She could not descend the ladders. She also has a fear of wide open vistas.

  2. What beautiful pictures and an amazing adventure! I'm not afraid of heights but this would make me a tad bit concerned ;-) Susan W.

  3. This is a a favorite spot for us. Unlike most I love to drive the mountain turny twisty roads and the beautiful vistas. What did bother me a lot is trying to figure out why anyone would want to live like that.



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