While I was driving home from Arizona, I noticed I was passing by the Mesa Verde. While I was in college my major was Biological Anthropology, and I had actually just completed a report on the Mesa Verde just a few weeks prior to this trip. I decided to take the extra time to see it in person. It’s one thing to read about something, and another thing to experience it.
The Mesa Verde is home to an archaeological site of ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. They are very well preserved and have very strict rules in place to keep them as such.
Upon arriving at the welcome center of the park, I inquired about how to see all of the sites. I was very disheartened to learn that there was only 2 sites you could see without a paid guided tour. First, I was very pressed for time since I still had a 20 hour drive ahead of me and work that had to be done. Second, I got caught up in the historical significance of the site that I was, admittedly, disgusted to see how much of a tourist spot this archaeological site had become.
Since I didn’t have time to wait for the paid tours of the bigger sites (plus, I was too low on funds to risk spending the extra money), I decided to take the self guided tour.
There was a lot of people and this general “push” to keep moving through the site. Stopping to take it all in seemed like something people didn’t expect you to do here. There are markers and signs everywhere, which in my opinion, really took away from the experience. It was more like being in a museum with wax recreations than actually standing on ancestral lands.
I even got yelled at by a ranger right after snapping this picture; apparently I was standing on a wall and I didn’t even realize it. I just kept moving with the flow of tourists without really being able to appreciate what I was looking at.
When I got back to the top near the parking lot I saw a man working with some yucca with traditional tools. Beside him was his grandson, who was making a stone water bowl, and his wife who was humming to herself. I asked them if I could take their picture, which they obliged. While I was snapping photos, they began talking to me about their ancestry and what they are making.
I learned that they were of Pueblo decent and that their ancestors used to live within the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. They came to the park to demonstrate the historically accurate process of basket weaving and use of the yucca plant in their culture. It really is so much better to learn about a culture from the voice of a human than from the text on a screen. I listened to them talk for over an hour. I sat with them and engaged with everything they offered.
The husband talked about how beautiful his wife is and how proud he is that his grandson is learning to make his own tools. They asked me what brought me to the park and I explained that I was travelling through and that I was an anthropology major. They were delighted to learn that little fact and talked to me about their experiences working with anthropologists. I had gotten so lost in the conversation that I had put down my camera and felt like I was just chatting with an old friend who I hadn’t seen in awhile. That is, until the sun started getting low in the sky and I realized I needed to get back on the road.
Leaving Southwest Colorado was difficult. I fell in love with the vibrant colours and the mountain peeks. Every so often, I would pull off the road to just look over the land and maybe snap some photos.
But as the sun started to set the clouds rolled in. It was foggy at first, but then gave way to rain.
Of course, it wasn’t until I got home did I realize that I took almost all of the landscape photos with the wrong aperture. . .