Southwest Colorado Adventures, Day 4: Wetherhill Mesa

This is the continuation of the story that started here and continued here

A few days before we left for our trip, I was clicking around the Mesa Verde website, looking for interesting things to do. I read about Wetherhill Mesa, the remote part of the park that is visited by something like 10 percent of all Mesa Verde visitors. I knew we’d want to go there. Then, I came across a 4.5-hour bike-and-hike tour of Wetherhill Mesa. Although we were a little nervous about the bike part (neither of us is in great uphill-pedalling shape), I went ahead and booked the tour. It ended up being fairly easy and was both of our favorite part of the trip.

We started at the information kiosk on Wetherhill Mesa, where we met our ranger, Ranger John, and another couple — the only other people on our tour. We chatted a bit while we waited to make sure that no one else was coming, and we learned that our ranger had worked at Mesa Verde off and on since the 1970s. He obviously knew his stuff, and with only four of us, we knew we’d get to ask all the questions we wanted.

We first biked down to the Kodak House Overlook, where we parked our bikes and walked a few yards down the road. Ranger John turned down a lightly-marked trail — I’d have missed it on my own — and led us along the mesa. Along the way, as he told us about the Ancestral Puebloans who had once walked where we were walking, we kept a close eye out for pottery shards, evidence that an unexcavated site was nearby. The other couple on the tour were Mesa Verde buffs — they go every year — so Jordan and I mostly listened and learned from their discussion with the ranger.

The coolest part about this tour was that we got to see two sites that you can’t see unless you’re on the bike-and-hike. The first was Double House. We couldn’t get near it, but we could see it clearly from the ridge, and even clearer with binoculars. The ranger explained that even archeologists go in only about once every 20 years. We stayed probably 20 minutes while he gave us the known information about Double House and pointed out some other, smaller dwellings in the canyon.

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Jordan overlooking Double House

Our next stop was a lookout over Nordenskold 12, an unexcavated dwelling that included some petroglyphs that we could see through our binoculars. Again, we stayed quite a while as the ranger explained what was known about the dwelling and about Nordenskold’s team of excavators back in the 1890s. We felt extremely lucky to see these two sites, especially with such a small group and such a knowledgeable ranger.

We next walked back to the Kodak House overlook, leaving our bikes a few more minutes while we walked out to the overlook and learned about the dwelling. Returning to our bikes, we pedalled  to the Long House trailhead, where we stopped to eat a snack and wait for the prior (much larger) Long House tour group to finish. After our break, we headed down the trail to what, in my opinion, was the most incredible of the dwellings we saw in the park.

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Our very small group (minus Jordan, who’s taking the picture) approaching Long House

As we arrived in the cool shade of the alcove, Ranger John asked us to sit silently, looking down the canyon, just watching and listening. We sat like that for just a few minutes, and I swear, in those few minutes, I felt connected to the place and the people who had lived there so long ago.

We couldn’t sit silently forever, and our tour continued. Since there were only four of us, we were allowed to explore more, linger longer, and ask more questions than the normal tour groups. Still careful not to touch anything, we peeked in windows, peered into kivas, and climbed a ladder to see loom loops in one of the rooms.

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Jordan exploring Long House

We ended our tour of Long House in the dance plaza, and it was there that I finally was able to picture, as I’d been trying to do all week, how the place and the people may have looked over a thousand years ago. The ranger pointed to the remnants of balconies and the natural ledges of rock, explaining that during a big dance or ceremony, people would have sat all along those ledges — hundreds of people, maybe even lining the mesa tops, watching, listening, participating. I could almost — almost — see it happening.

We stood again, mostly silent, occasionally asking questions, all obviously reluctant to leave. The ranger told us that he wanted to leave us with a message that every descendant of the Ancestral Puebloans that he’d ever talked to had given him: They’re still here.

Finally, we had to leave. We hiked out slowly, reluctantly, and sat again in the shade at the trailhead, chatting for another 30 minutes though our tour was long over. Eventually, John had to report back to the kiosk, so we all followed.

Jordan and I said goodbye to our new friends, then locked up our bikes and went down the self-guided loop to Step House. It was similar to the other dwellings, though unique because it contained dwellings from two time periods. After our tour that morning, though, I felt like I saw and understood more than I would have otherwise.

We left Wetherhill Mesa after Step House, and we drove slowly back, stopping at each overlook, admiring the long, clear views of Ship Rock in New Mexico one direction and Utah in another.

Wednesday was our ninth anniversary, so instead of camping, we checked in to the Far View Lodge, took real showers, and ate an expensive but delicious dinner before sleeping in a real bed, which felt nice after three days of camping.

That day was wonderful all around; if you visit Mesa Verde, bring or rent a bike and do the bike and hike tour. It’s the best $15 you’ll ever spend.

Best tour you’ve ever taken?

How do you celebrate your anniversary?

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