Okay, I am beginning to think I am being stalked. I mean seriously, Israel is a country of maybe 7 million people. What are the odds that I would run into two different Hebrew-speaking couples in three days about as far from Israel as I could possibly get? In fact, out in the middle of the desert in Arizona and Colorado? In their defense, neither couple seemed to notice me, but I am certain it is part of a plot to send me back to Jerusalem.
Anyway, we got up early this morning so we could head to Mesa Verde. Future Farmers of America was having a convention in Cortez, Colorado, and we feared that Mesa Verde would be filled with noisy high schoolers as a result (a fear founded in part by overhearing a chaperone at the restaurant where we had dinner last night saying she was taking a group out there). There were some teenagers at the welcome center when we got there, and as feared, they were pretty loud, but luckily we soon lost them.
The park is huge, and even the welcome center is 15 miles from the entrance! Two-thirds of the park have burned since 1989, so sadly much of the drive in is a combination of beautiful views and dead trees. I imagine the park was amazing before the fires, because it is still pretty amazing now. The highest point in the park has an elevation of well over 8000 feet!
Elevation sign at Park Point
By the time we arrived, all of the tickets for the first two tours of the Cliff Palace had been sold, so we go tickets to the 11:30 tour. The tour was described as "strenuous," which made us a bit nervous, but we went for it anyway. (A tour of the Balcony House was described as "adventurous, complete with a 12 ft tunnel to crawl through and a 60 ft. open face rock to climb...we opted to skip that one!). Since we had an hour to kill, we headed to the Chapin Mesa Museum.
From there, we went to Cliff Palace. The tour was not nearly as strenuous as we feared, just a few ladders to climb and a steep incline (you get more winded in the high altitude). And was it ever worth it! Cliff Palace, with more than 150 rooms and 23 kivas, was begun around 1210 AD, though the area was occupied by the Ancient Puebloans long before that. Construction was largely completed within 20 years. Only about 120 people lived there, and it is speculated that it was an administrative and religious center. No one knows why they suddenly began building above-ground structures to replace the semi-subterranian pithouses they lived in for centuries. What is known is that they didn't live in the Cliff Palace or similar dwellings for long, only until about 1300 AD. While there was a drought that began in 1276 AD and lasted until 1300, the guide told us that the site was never reoccupied and that it was only "discovered" by ranchers in the 1800s. That makes me think there was more to it than just the drought. At any rate, the palace is breath-taking.
View From Above Cliff Palace
Inside Cliff Palace