July 25, 1998

I leave DeChelley early, with hopes of a short riding day to Mesa Verde. First up is a stop in Four Corners and later Shiprock. Both are interesting for their links to Tony Hillerman, and Ship Rock is pretty neat, a large, Noah's Ark geological oddity towering up out of the desert floor, but nothing of real interest to report. I feel a bit more comfortable in Shiprock, but overall I am uneasy on the reservation.

I reach Cortez, Colorado fairly early, around 2pm, and decide I really want a soft bed and a warm shower, so I find the cheapest motel in town and call it a day. Tomorrow I will go to Mesa Verde, the largest Anasazi ruins in the country, but today I will watch tv, nap, do laundry, and in general recharge my batteries.

July 26, 1998

I head out as soon as I can, as I know that the lines for the guided tours will begin soon after 8am. There is limited space in each tour, and one must make same-day reservations. I am totally unprepared for the ride to Mesa Verde. I have been in the desert for many, many days, but now I am at the foothills of the Rockies, and beginning to get a bit north to boot. It is COLD! I shiver and chatter my way to the park, some 9 miles outside of Cortez, and then get even colder inside the park as the road climbs to 8500 feet. I am still disoriented and shaking when I get in line, and only with some difficulty determine which tour I want to go on. There are three guided tours, Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House. The first two are limited to one or the other per day during summer hours. Cliff Palace has 150 rooms, but no interaction. Balcony House has 20 rooms, but a 32 foot tall ladder to be climbed and a 12 foot tunnel to crawl through, and we get to walk among the ruins. Guess which one I choose.

I still have some time before my tour time, so as I ride the 12 miles from the Visitor Center to the Ruins, I look for turn-offs to the self guided tours, so that I know where to come back to. The tour begins promptly, and the guide is knowledgeable. We descend down a paved path until we stand at the base of a very tall handmade wooden ladder. It is sturdy, but the two-wide assembly line climbing is a bit disconcerting. Once to the top, there is a small hole in the wall we have to step through, but then we are into a cliff dwelling overlooking a 700 foot drop into the canyon floor below. We learn different room functions, and different theories about the purpose of the dwelling itself. It is strange to consider that 750 years ago 40 to 60 people lived in this alcove. On exit we have to crawl through a narrow artificially made tunnel. The residents of the dwelling at some time filled in the crack between two rocks with stones and cement until there was only a small hole. It is believed that this may have been defensive, but there are countering theories. Regardless, it is agreed that it the entrance to this dwelling was intentionally made difficult. After the passage through comes the real thrill - climbing up the cliff exactly the way the inhabitants did, by footholds in the cliff wall, straight up. Of course, the National Park Service has considered our safety and provided chains on either side for handrails, but the climb is still vertical and a real thrill.

The self guided tours are equally informative. Taking a particular route, one can trace the history of the Mesa Verde inhabitants from 600 AD to 1280 AD, from pit homes to cave dwellings, from crude to comfortable. Of particular interest is Spruce Tree House, a short half mile, 300 foot descent to some dwellings of the size of Gila Cliff, with one room underground that the public is allowed to climb down into via a ladder. If you go, be sure and give yourself ample time for the two mile hike to the Petroglyphs. I did not, and I am disappointed. However, I know I will be back to this place, and many others that I have visited, and next time I will know to spend a lot more time.

This ends the third leg of my journey, and effectively ends my journal. From here, other than tomorrow's crossing of Wolf Creek Pass, I only have the Hwy 66 Museum in Clinton, OK, the Museum of Art in Oklahoma City, and the Space Center in Huntsville to visit, all man-made and not in the same vein as the natural wonders that have inspired me to write so passionately. I may post a summary of the last journal, but from here I expect to be finished in less than a week. It is time to go home, and I expect to put in long miles and stay in motels instead of camping, in order to maximize my rest and travel time. What a long, strange trip it has been.

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