Mesa Verde National Park's Cliff Hangers

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MVrang.jpg"Why do I haveta have such a baby sister?" moaned Mikaela.

Hundreds of miles earlier in our Southwestern US road trip, Katrianna quit defending herself. And simply scrunched further down in her booster seat. Yet her older sister's taunts ticked off with regularity, keeping steady pace with the highway's mile markers before finally crossing the [CO state] line.  

"You're just scared because you're so young!"
Not really, I interceded, I'm frightened, too. Good thing Katrianna's backing out since otherwise I'd definitely be taking the fall for it....

"Oh, c'mon, it's only 50 feet!"

Actually, that was another of Mikaela's tall tales. The Balcony House ladder was a mere 32 feet high, though the hike to reach it also included a 12-foot tunnel crawl & a 60-foot open rock face ascent.

"And the travel guide said it's the very best one. On their 'Not To Miss' list!  But now we're gonna skip it  -- all because of scaredy Kat ~rianna!"

As we passed through the entry gate into Mesa Verde National Park, Chris 'helped' by suggesting we might turn around & go right back to Houston if Mikaela didn't stop. Huh. Nothing quite as effective as an idle parental threat, is there?  True, this strategy maybe works if one's traveled 5 miles away from home... possibly 15... but, hmm, exactly how credible is this: So, Cathy, whaddya think about driving us a thousand miles & then we'll pull a U-ie?

"Besides, there's nothing hard about it! I could easily climb that ladder wearing all 4 of our backpacks, a water bottle in one hand & Skittles in the other! This is so unfair!"

It so was!  Mikaela was determined to show that she was officially a Tween now. And, perhaps even more importantly, that her sister was officially not. Accordingly, she sulked.                   

Well, I reasoned, unfortunately we'd arrived too late to reserve tour spots anyway...

MVCliffP.jpgHowever, we had timed it perfectly to take solitary, dusky strolls among deserted (even by modern tourists) Mesa Top farming villages, choose to casually overlook Cliff Palace all by our lonesomes, view a gloaming sunset from Park Point's 8572-foot advantage, and finally eat & sleep by starlight in Morefield Campground amid the soothing sounds of chirping crickets, crackling campfires and purring sputtering choking carburetors in sundry RV generators.


The next morning, while other guests queued outside the Far View Visitor Center for guided tour tickets to Long House, Cliff Palace or the acrophobic-exclusive Balcony House, we busily got ourselves all spruced up instead. Yup, in order to get on down to the Spruce Tree House at the break of dawn. It was misty-cal, all right, as we made our way along the dewy path with glimpses of the overhanging cliff site beckoning. Even more so when we realized we were the only ones there. Well, except for two Ancestral Puebloans who greeted us in that peculiar, primitive headgear of theirs, ie the "funny hats" worn by all natives of the National Park Service.

Hospitably, they offered to show us around the place & began with a rote set of queries intended to engage, pique interest & inform. However, in preparation for our visit, M&K had studied the NPS website, making those rhetorical questions not quite so rhetorical after all:

The ranger ~                                                                  M&K ~

Does anyone know what 'Mesa Verde' means?                   Green Table!
And who lived here?                                                       The Anasazi!
How long ago?                                                                1400 to 700 years ago!
Why did they leave?                                                        Don't know!    
That's right! Truthfully, no one knows...

OK, so what did they eat?                                               They farmed on the mesa!
What type of structure did they live in?                            Pit houses!
And later?                                                                       Under the cliffs!
What are their bricks made out of?                                  Sandstone!
Why are these ceilings black?                                          Umm... not sure?

Pshew, that made everybody feel better. Happily, the ranger led them to correctly guess "Oh, yeah, it's cause of the smoke from their fires!"

The rangers exchanged a knowing nod. "You're homeschoolers, aren't you?" they stated in agreement, as though plainly this was another rhetorical device. Wow, I humbly noted, how effortlessly we make our lil' contribution to reinforce the image of homeschoolers everywhere....

Next, they invited the kids to partake in the usual daily grind, skillfully demonstrating how to keep one's nose to the ol' grindstone (at least until M&K got the grist of it). Sure, it's corny, but it seemed the girls thought it was grate & could go on like that all day. In fact, everybody was having such a good time, it was hardly noticeable when M&K kept inching away from the edge of pit where the second ranger stood expectantly.

MVkiv.jpgClearly with well ingrained excitement, she segued to the climatic moment, "Of course, I bet ya'll already know what a kiva is!"   No answer.

"Yes, good. And that small circular hole in the bottom is called a 'sipapu.'  Step up here a little closer so you can see it!"   No movement.

"OK then," she declared, "the awesome part is that you get to go down into it now!"

Evidently overcome with repentance for yesterday's teasing, Mikaela benevolently offered the first turn to her little sister. "No, that's okay," declined Katrianna, "you can go first."

But Mikaela-the-Elder insisted. She helpfully pushed Katrianna forward, ever closer to the rim.  "No, I don't really wanna..." Katrianna admitted. "Cuz I think... I might be scared."
Would it help if I went first, I wondered, & jumped onto the ladder.
MVcerb.jpg"Mom, NOOOOOOOOO!" M&K gasped at my Dante-esque descent, certain that the 3-headed Cerberus awaited my demise below. Heeding Mikaela's dire warning -- "Don't step in the hole, Mom. It leads to the Underworld!" -- I dutifully performed a thorough kiva inspection, reported it safe & sound, and invited Katrianna to join me.     

Trustingly, she backed up another foot & a half.  So Chris clambered partway down and held out his hand. Still Katrianna wouldn't budge. "Sorry, Dad," she whispered as he resurfaced.

"Guess it's all yours, Mikaela!" I called up. "Come on in, it's the pits!"

Suddenly, it was as if the intrepid Tween wouldn't touch that kiva with a ten six-foot ladder. "Mom, can I just jump & you'll catch me?!" Mikaela suggested at a volume [with the tre(m)ble turned up] guaranteed to reverberate through its shadowy depths.

After 10 minutes of urging, waiting, pleading and stalling, I made the arduous ascent solo. To the welcoming, joint embrace of our dear anxious daughters. Once again, the rangers exchanged a knowing nod. Wow, I humbly noted, how effortlessly we make our lil' contribution to reinforce the image of homeschoolers everywhere.... 

So what's there to say? It's not surprising, really. After all, we're homeschoolers, not social climbers.

MVpt.jpgMVpg2.jpgWithout a word, it was immediately understood -- time for us to take a hike. We headed out on the Petroglyph Point Trail which winds through & often clings to the walls of Spruce Canyon. Here, too, we were the only ones on the single-file track and soon found it challenging, as well as truly delightful. The canyon is coolly invigorating, verdant, with striking views in contrasting oranges, browns & greens. It's filled with narrow passages that require squeezing through rocks and grabbing onto centuries-smoothed hand holds pecked into the canyon walls by Mesa Verde's original inhabitants. There was an overwhelming sense of the past and its people each time we stepped into the foot wells formed by their ancient civilization, stony testaments worn away by daily use, comparable to the age-old depressions made in marble stair steps throughout Europe.... 

And then the incredible happened! Unbeknownst to the rest of us, Chris started seeing folks on every bend, at every turn, literally hanging out all over the place. Apparently, the cliffs were speaking to him from the omnipresent formations eerily resembling rock faces. (Not that he isn't always on the look out for two-faced impersonators. Or stone-faced posers. Perhaps the Rolling Stones? Plus Rocky I.. II.. III... no, can't malign his reputation like that - implying he watches Sylvester Stallone movies is going too far.)
MVfaces.jpgEventually he revealed not only their existence, but also his conjectures as to the obvious meanings of their Anasazi-chiseled features. Take this one with the particularly menacing expression - would give cowardly aggressors pause, no? Or that one with curlycue vines overhanging its brow & the silly grin - aha! "killed 'em" with laughs. What about him, over there, with the quizzical expression - meant to baffle & discombobulate the wary trespasser (seemed to be working on Chris, anyhow). So convinced was he that he filled our camera's photo card with pictures to document the find, in disbelief that no archeologist before him had dared look this phenomena in the face...

Although it was well before noon when we climbed out of the canyon, the heat was stifling, the mesa's piñons & junipers woefully short on shade. However, Chris rushed us onwards to the visitor center, eager to share his discovery!  Another kind & patient ranger received the news.  And diplomatically suggested that Yes, many people see things in the rocks...  Uh huh, the lighting creates some strange effects...  Interesting indeed, but ever heard about a thing called 'erosion'?...

As we drove out of Mesa Verde National Park and I tried in vain to soothe Chris' disappointment (by searching for my new favorite song - Smiling Faces Sometimes* - on the car radio), his confidence spontaneously rallied. For he did what most sensitive parents do under similar circumstances. And remembered to bring up his child's previous mistake.

"Hey, Miks, don't you have something you should say to your sister?"   Silence.

"About being wrong? You know, the Balcony House?"   Continued silence.

"And," he goaded, "ladders?"

"Okay, okay, I suppose it's not really all your fault, Katrianna..." mumbled Mikaela. "That you're 3 whole years younger than me!"

Ahh, lesson learned. No sense cliff dwelling on it. 

*Beware, it's one of the most irritating songs ever. And that's The Undisputed Truth.
And, tho it's the much disputed truth, a "Tween" is generally defined as an 8-12 year old.

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Wow, how exciting! I wish I could have learned the way your girls learn!

Hi! Truly fascinating - globeschooling! And your blog is a wonderful record and a very interesting read.


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