Overall, it was a good mix of National Park organization and Native American participation with many of the rangers of Native descent. One was left with a good appreciation of the people who cultivated the area that became the park. Being part of the National Park system, it was included on the America the Beautiful National Park Pass. With many Native Americans working in the park, it is hoped that money from the park is funneling down to the park's descendants. More importantly, the history of these innovative people remains part of all American's history and as a visitor, I felt not estranged from their considerable accomplishments. Though obviously not a Native American myself, I felt a pride for a people who are in many ways just as much forefather's of the United States of America as was George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.
We left after a few days and headed towards Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona, our second Native American park. Less than a hundred miles away but so very far in the way a similarly beautiful place is being managed.
Another fifteen years later, I was showing my German-born wife around the US Southwest, trying to remain neutral and thus not taint the general European romantic notions of the earliest settlers of North America. We had a good first impression at Taos Pueblo in New Mexico and locals there highly recommended Chaco Culture National Historic Park. It unfortunately was quite an ordeal to get to so we continued on with our plans through New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah visiting many National Parks along the way. We were headed for Mesa Verde National Park in southern Colorado, the first of three planned Native American Site parks and did not quite know what to expect.
The park lacked the spectacle of the Utah parks but it was somehow comforting to be amongst dense forests of trees again. The campground was disappointing in its planning, with spots far too close together, and in price, with the park charging a few dollars more than the Grand Canyon which had previously been our most expensive stop.
To be fair, showers were free but enticing campers to use more water than they need does not seem a National Park's creed and we would have preferred a more reasonably-priced campground with showers on the pay system. Aside from that, the park was well organized with good interpretive displays, incredibly well-preserved ruins, and fun informative ranger-led walks into the ruins at nominal cost. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
Putting things into perspective, I liked being the Indian. As a kid, when many of my friends fought over being the Lone Ranger, I was quite content to be Tonto. Of course, Tonto could use a rifle. I wasn't having any of that Indian with a bow and arrow against the Gatling Gun nonsense. One of my strongest childhood memories in the world of advertising is the Indian Chief with a tear running down his face while watching the careless white man littering up the world. Native American wasn't a common term but I'm not so sure Indian was a derogatory one, at least not in the world of kids playing games.
Flash forward about twenty-five years and I was exploring Monument Valley for the first time, finding out that it not being a National Park meant it would cost me to get in. I would also have to fend off the numerous sales pitches for tours of what I was to find out was a very loose interpretation of a park compared to those run by the US government. No, Monument Valley Tribal Park was not part of the National Park Pass I'd been using. It also seemed that suddenly a car that made it up to Alaska on some of the roughest roads in the United States was being questioned to drive around the Monument's admittedly beautiful rock formations. As hard as I tried to take the Native American's plight into consideration, I was left with a sour taste for what should have been an incredible visit into their sacred land. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
Every night at 7pm down at the store, there is a free movie for the history of mesa verde presented by some knowledgeable archaeologists. If you've never heard or read about Mesa Verde, watching the movie you'll learn gazillion times more things than listening the rangers (i was really upset with them as u can see !! it was a dream of mine to go see mesa verde since when i was a child and i think i knew more things about the dwellings than the rangers)
I want to applogize to all other rangers...may be only the two guys we came across were not the best, and i don't want to make enemies . Sorry about that!
Like most areas run by the National Park system Mesa Verde charges an entry fee for admission into the park. Entry is 10 dollars per vehicle upon entering the park at the booth. If you want to take the ranger guided tour of the ruins just ask at the main visitors center when the next one starts. The tours usually only run frequently in the Summer and cost $2.50.
Fondest memory: trying to convince the guy from my home city of Denver that we really did get 31 inches of snow from the blizzard. I think I showed him the blisters on my hands from the shoveling for further evidence. No REALLY we did get that much snow.
Favorite thing: Kivas are the central meeting place in Native Puebloan culture. Typically, the Kiva was build into the ground, or the pueblo was built up in a circular fashion, with brick to the top, then covered in a wood or tree branch pattern covering. During our trip to Mesa Verde National Park, we came across this grand Kiva inside the Cliff Palace on our guided tour. It was amazing to see how much detail the Kiva had in comparison to some of the other buildings in the palace. Each Kiva has its own personality, but all kivas have a couple central themes. One, you can always see a fire pit almost directly in the middle. Second is a chute leading up for fresh air to come in. Third, there are almost always extra "seats" build around the circular edges, however these were not for seating, but rather to place religious articles or sacrifices. Finally, almost all kivas have storage places where these articles would be stored in between meetings.
Favorite thing: Some people may have reservations or concerns about how difficult the trip may be for them. I have included here a picture of the largest of the ladders you will need to climb to get out of the tour when you are done. There is no hurry, you can absolutely take your time and no one will rush you, however you will need to be able to climb 4 ladders, none of which are more than 10 feet in height. The end of the tour has three in a row, and if you have 30 or so people on your tour it can take a while, but there are plenty of people who volunteer to go last, so don't feel rushed at all. Sarah was able to climb them with the baby on her back with no problem, and the stairs are not clausterphobic at all, as there is plenty of fresh air all around.
Favorite thing: The only thing there is to see here, apart from the occasional mule deer or tarantula hawk, are the ruins of various cliff dwellings that were abandoned centuries ago. While many of these sites have been well-preserved, others are in a state of decay, while still others are barely discernible in pockets or gaps in the cliff walls. If you look carefully, you'll see these ancient remnants, but most of your time will obviously involve the exploration of the more famous and better preserved sites in the park.
Favorite thing: You can see that the ancient Anasazi were smart builders with limited tools and materials at their disposal. The somewhat conical towers narrow upward from the base to the uppermost third-story room. The many walls have numerous bulwarks and supports. The kivas are either smoothly rounded or precisely squared, and the community (especially at Cliff Palace, shown here) lived on various levels, showing the economy but mastery of limited space.
One of my favorite things about Mesa Verde National Park has to be the beautiful panoramic views you get of the canyons and mesa top. It is truly amazing to see the architecture and skill involved in creating these mesa top pueblos.
Sarah, Anna and I especially liked the outlook we went to for the Cliff Palace prior to the tour, where you get to stand in awe as you wait to travel down to the actual site and witness the grandeur up close.
My personal favorite part of the trip to Mesa Verde had to be our picnic lunch out in the daytime campsite. Sarah did an excellent job of packing plenty of food for us to enjoy in the open air as a family, and there were plenty of open spots for us to park and have a feast. The options are fairly limited to food in the National Park, so bringing your own is a very safe bet. Plus, if you don't like it, you can complain directly to the chef (you!).
If you did not plan ahead and pack a lunch, you can stop in to the Spruce Tree Restaurant year round for lunch.
be prepared to climb ladders. In the old days they did not use so much ladders as artificial hand- and footholds to make their dwellings safe.
Fondest memory: A lady behind me asked her partner where the lift was, and he replied, 'It must be somewhere over there. But let´s climb the ladder, it´s more fun.' !!!
drive over to Chapin Mesa. Here are the most accessible ruins such as Cliff Palace (the best view of which you´ll get from the Sun Temple).
Fondest memory: Back in 1980, it was still possible to wander around freely in the ruins. Today, there are far too many people to let them all walk around - hence there are guided tours and you have to book early.
Fondest memory: This 'dwelling' must have been the equivalent to a modern town! They got their water from down in the valley which made it a bit strenuous to be a housewife. But then again, they would also just sweep the trash down into the canyon. Nowadays, archaeologists dig through the remains to determine how they lived.
Interesting that Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings, left by their residents in 1300s and their historical artifacts, were not found till the end of 1870s. Spanish explorers seeking a route from Santa Fe to California in the 1760s and 1770s were the first Europeans to reach the Mesa Verde (green table) region, which they named after its high, tree-covered plateaus (now it does not look like that due to numerous fires on park’s territory). However, they never got close enough to see the ancient stone villages, which would remain a secret for another century.
In 1874 one of discoverers of American West, John Moss, brought a photographer William Henry Jackson to Mesa Verde. They were followed by geologist William H. Holmes in 1875. Articles of both Jackson and Holmes were included in the 1876 report of survey aimed to explore the American West. This report led to further study of cliff dwellings.
Mesa Verde was established as a national park ion June 29, 1906, seventh national park after Yellow Stone and others.