Mancos State Park campground with its 30-some campsites, cool mountain air and comfortable, well-equipped yurts (including futon beds, a fridge and a microwave) lacked only one luxury amenity—a shower.
Not to worry, though, we fancied the lack of bathing to be part of the true pioneer experience, complete with the echoes of howling coyotes at dusk and dawn. Plus it was only two nights…and we had lots of baby wipes. The price was right for comfortable digs, just 15 minutes from the entrance to Mesa Verde State Park, too – $60 a night.
Mesa Verde is the former home of the Native Americans, formerly known as Anazasi. Ranger Dan, the tour guide who led us through the Cliff Palace ruins explained that the Navajo word”Anasazi” translates roughly to “ancient ones” or even “ancient enemies” and is a less-than-accurate way to refer to the people who built these amazing dwellings and inhabited the four corners area of the United States about 900 years ago— years before the Navajo settled nearby and way before Christopher Columbus was even a twinkle in his mother’s eye.
So now, we latecomers call these industrious early settlers “Ancient Puebloans” to distinguish them from the Puebloan people they eventually joined to form groups in placed like Mexico, New Mexico and Arizona. (Hope I got that right.) This journey certainly has inspired me to learn more about American history.
To see the ingenious dwellings that these native people built without benefit of modern machines is humbling and amazing and to think they scaled these cliffs daily to make their way to the mesa tops where they farmed without rivers or running water is almost unimaginable.
During our day in Mesa Verde, we learned about kivas—circular ceremonial spaces incorporated throughout each collection of dwellings. Ranger Dan explained these underground spots were also used regularly for socializing and relaxing (kind of like a holy rec room). They eventually abandoned these awesome dwellings for reasons no one knows—possibly a drought, possibly other depleted resources, possibly some cultural incentive to move on
The most interesting thing I took from his talk, however, was that early people probably didn’t distinguish subject from object as we modern folks do. In other words, a worthless, inanimate rock to us was part of living earth to them, just like our living bodies are collections of rocks/bones, minerals, etc. The whole world was alive to them, he said, complete with crying streams, angry storms and sympathetic stones.
In the afternoon, we took another guided adventure of “Balcony House.” The tour of this smaller dwelling is not for the faint of heart (like me). It included climbing a 32-foot ladder, squirming through an 18-inch wide tunnel, and a steep ascent up a cliff face assisted by a swinging chain railing.
All the kids ranked this potentially perilous experience as one of the highlights of the trip to date—although surprisingly Anna learned she has a fear of heights, and Balcony House is an adventure she will always remember, but likely not repeat.