Mesa Verde: Past and Present Standing on a primeval path hugging the canyon wall, gazing up at ancient rock art over 1000 years old. It’s one thing to see history. It’s another to actually feel it. Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado is hardly off-the-beaten path. Even in the off-season, the masses line up for a not-so intimate look at Spruce Tree House, one of the best- preserved cliff dwellings in the park. And for good reason. However, amid the tourists’ cameras, screaming kids and texting teenagers, it’s difficult to get a sense of the place the way it would have been centuries ago. Luckily, the Petroglyph Point trail begins and ends in the same location. The loop trail is 2.4 miles long, and almost immediately upon setting off you can feel yourself slipping backward in time. Tourists’ voices fade as this ancient community and outdoor museum come to life. The trail, more ancient than the petroglyphs which make it famous, follows the canyon rim, guiding you in and out of tight spots, around enormous boulders and along precarious ledges, opening up dramatic canyon vistas. A lizard shoots across the trail. This is no Sunday stroll. You’ll navigate your way up and down stairs fashioned from stone, climb over and around trees and stumps, and sometimes find yourself grappling at anything for support. Around a corner, remnants of an ancient kitchen appear. The black, soot-stained rock above this outdoor room helps one to imagine a Pueblo family huddled around the fire at dinner time. Soon after, the trail winds around a bend to reveal Pictograph Point, the largest and best known group of petroglyphs in Mesa Verde. Alone on the trail, engulfed in the immense silence that nature sometimes offers, it’s easy to imagine the Anasazi, as they stood on the ledge and chipped their designs into the rock face. To their backs the same immense views of heaven and earth and everything in-between. Reminding all that the physical world changes little over time. The majority of trees throughout Mesa Verde are junipers or pinyon pines, as well as some Douglas firs a few hundred years old. Mule deer, ringtail cats, cottontail rabbits, coyotes and foxes are some of the most common four-legged creatures in the park. While the large and sometimes noisy ravens soar high above it all. That feeling of solitude and exploration is just what I needed. I thank the ancient people for their art and for building the trail. I also thank the tourists for sticking to the script, the well- worn path that now felt like a lifetime away. A few minutes later, after not seeing another soul for two hours, a school group passes by. The trail is narrow, forcing me into a siding while they file past. How quickly the modern world returns. Inspiring nostalgia for a period in time in which I know so little about. A period in time in which I felt briefly immersed. The cost to enter the park is $10 per vehicle, and that is good for seven days. And be sure to dress in layers, as life in the canyon shadows can be chilly any time of the year.
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