June 8: Cliff dwellings, and a bit of a rant

First, the rant. I think I need to write Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (my senators) about how our national parks are being priced out of the means of too many Americans. Thirty-two bleeding dollars for a campsite at Mesa Verde is just the tip of the iceberg. It brought back memories of a bunch of other indignities, like the fact that the price of a cabin at Yellowstone has doubled in the last ten years (and never mind that you can’t even camp near Old Faithful anymore, so if you want to be at the geyser basins early or late, you have to pay for lodging), or that the cheapest place to stay in Yosemite is a filthy (and I mean that in the literal sense – the one I stayed in was disgustingly dirty when I was there in 2011) tent cabin for $125 a night. There’s a lot of inequity about entrance fees, too – some very popular parks don’t charge fees, and some charge upwards of $30 just to get in (this is why an annual parks pass for $80 is something I always do – even when I don’t travel it pays for itself just for going to Rainier and Olympic). Anyway, I hate how the parks are letting the concessioners get away with murder. If they really want to walk the walk about getting the younger generations into the parks that they keep talking about, then they need to make sure the younger generations can actually afford to go to the parks. And those of us in the older generations who aren’t rich, too.

Rant over. At least for now.

Other than that, I love Mesa Verde. This is another of those parks that I first visited when I was too young to remember. Almost. The earliest memory I have of traveling with my family is of my sisters holding my hands as I walked along the top of the walls at the Sun Temple here (which is strictly illegal to do these days).

Sun Temple, which the archaeologists think was a communal worship/spiritual gathering place.
Sun Temple, which the archaeologists think was a communal worship/spiritual gathering place.

I’ve been to Mesa Verde once as an adult, in 2002, in the immediate aftermath of a huge fire that closed chunks of the park. It’s nice to be back when everything’s open.

The first thing I did was stop at the brand-new (2012) visitor center just inside the park entrance to buy two tickets, one for a tour of Cliff Palace today, and one for a tour of Balcony House tomorrow, then  I drove the mesa top loop, which is where Sun Temple is, and where there are other ruins, and where of course I saw more wildflowers.

One of the mesa-top ruins.  This was a pit house from before they started building cliff dwellings.
One of the mesa-top ruins. This was a pit house from before they started building cliff dwellings.
Scarlet gilia
Scarlet gilia
Mariposa lily
Mariposa lily
Prickly pear cactus, yellow this time.
Prickly pear cactus, yellow this time.

I went through Cliff Palace in 2002, and it’s an amazing place. The ranger who took us through this time talked mostly about the history of archaeology as it applies to Mesa Verde, and the good things that happened and the bad. It was eye-opening. Did you know that because the first “real” archaeologist who excavated in Mesa Verde was from Sweden, that the largest collection of Mesa Verde artifacts is in a museum there? I knew from my own education that repatriation is a fraught concept, but I hadn’t known this in specific.

A view of Cliff Palace from across the canyon.
A view of Cliff Palace from across the canyon.
A cliff dwelling I didn't get the name of.
A cliff dwelling I didn’t get the name of.
Cliff Palace from the head of the trail.
Cliff Palace from the head of the trail.
A view from inside Cliff Palace.
A view from inside Cliff Palace.
Another view from inside Cliff Palace.
Another view from inside Cliff Palace.
A view from where we left Cliff Palace.
A view from where we left Cliff Palace.

Anyway, Cliff Palace is a remarkable place, well worth climbing ladders and squeezing up narrow steps (better than the hand and footholds on the cliffs the residents used) to get in and out of. I understand I’ll have to crawl through a tunnel to get into Balcony House tomorrow. That ought to be interesting.

Given that I refused to pay $32 to camp in the park, finding a campsite last night was interesting. The national forest doesn’t start until almost Durango, so that was out. I ended up in a commercial campground just across the highway from the park entrance. It was $19, which was considerably better. But still. I need to write my senators. Not that it’ll do any good, but it’ll make me feel better. The parks are supposed to be for everyone, dammit.