I arrived at Mesa Verde a little after 3p.m., aware that a few of the fantastic ruins were open for perusal, but that most of the others needed a ticket. Unfortunately, there are only two roads in the entire complex and they diverge quite close to the entrance, essentially constraining me to viewing just two of these archeological wonders. And on top of this, it started to rain. Sprinkle, really, but it was enough for rumors of cancelled tours to be whispered about. I wandered through the museum after falling asleep in the middle of the documentary (I swear I’ve done this at every museum so far – it’s just so dark…and comfy…and the soothing sounds of the narrator just trail off into the background…). As a connoisseur of more modern history it was hard to imagine people living here so long ago, and even more difficult to see an artifact dated to an accuracy of +/- 200 years. Fantastic stories seemruinsed woven about, scraping together artifacts, environmental clues, and modern descendents’ culture.
I tiptoed through the ruins, hastily taking my time. High above the valley, but just under the overhanging mesa, tiny, hobbit-size buildings (though these ancient people were about the same size as me) were stacked layer by layer until they seemingly disappeared into the rock. Scarred from hundreds of years of warm fire, the ceiling became a deeper and darker black as your eyes strained to see into the overhang. Ancestral Puebloans harvested their crops on top of the fertile mesa while living in the shelters below, safely shielded from rain (which I was quite thankful for on this gloomy day.) At the Spruce Tree House, a roaming park ranger showed me some of the more prominent features of the area as we debated over the correct phrasing of “the Swedes stole our shit and now Helsinki won’t give it back” (he smiled at my opinion, and then stated that at the time it was perfectly legal for the Swedish explorer Gustaf Nordenskiold to collect specimens – yah yah whatever, that’s like the British holding the Rosetta Stone). My second tour was a little more organized as a herd of us carefully navigated the WPA era steps into Cliff Palace. Our tour guide looked like an anthropologist. I realize this sounds strange, but picture a wispy older woman with graying shoulder length hair, thick glasses, and clad in slightly rugged outdoor wear – essentially the winner of some sort of Jane Goodall look alike contest – and you got her. Adeptly, she led us through one of the most beautiful areas in the park for the last tour of the day amidst the setting sun, making sure to excitedly point out her favorite spots. What could these crevices have been for in these homes? Why were some connected to each other and not others? Is there significance in the details of rounded towers versus square buildings? And most of all, why did they leave?
I didn’t want to leave either, but the enclosing darkness pressed me on. Maybe the ancients had to get to Texas as well.