There are certain places that are like a magnet, and just seem to draw you in. Mesa Verde is definitely one of these places – which I think is ironic considering how long it takes to actually drive up to the ruins from the park entrance! It’s like the place just has a feel. Like you can sense that a lot of human history was lived right here.
Other people know this as well, or at least feel it. One of the things I was struck by today was the many languages heard. There was a lot of French, German, and Chinese. But, this diversity naturally lends to a place that is an international heritage site. No one person or culture owns this place.
Today I basically took in the main sites on just one of the mesas, Chapin Mesa; which has all of the classic Mesa Verde sites, like Cliff Palace and Balcony House. Undoubtedly, though, my favorite part was when I set out on a 2 hour long hike to see some petroglyphs. I am a sucker for rock art, and have seen some of the classics in Lascaux and Altamira. I guess I wanted to see how Mesa Verde stacked up.
My first mistake was just aimlessly wandering down a trail that I didn’t realize was basically an intense rock-climbing trip. You hug the side of a canyon wall, and climb up and down fallen and broken rocks as you slowly amble out to the very end of the canyon, where a single wall of petroglyphs await before you literally climb to the top of the mesa for the walk back. I horribly burned my neck and ears.
The hike, though, was worth it because of the hand prints!! I know this sounds odd to be so excited, but the hand prints on the walls of caves in France and Spain was why I went to these European caves in the first place. These are like ancient signatures. A person saying hundreds of years ago that I was hear and that I made these. What a statement of human creativity! And all of this perfectly supports one of the main things that has been bumping around in my mind. Basically, we are all the same. We sign things across continents and across time. There is something so human in an ancient hand etched into a canyon wall.
I spent the rest of the day driving and climbing around to other ruins. From of all this I would have to say that I am the most struck by the mystery of Mesa Verde. Basically, no one really knows much about this place and the people that lived here. They simply walked off into the desert one day. There’s no written record, and most everything is guess work and speculation. And I love the thought that for something like 500 years this entire place was just a silent ruin. Massive cliff dwellings with no one in them. Only the endless chatter of birds that you can still hear today. This little thought actually gets back to another common theme in all of my travel writing over the years… that travel is, at the end of the day, a very sad, sobering adventure. Everything vanishes, and all of the life lived under these cliffs is essentially forgotten. We all just walk on.