I went to Mesa Verde National Park on Friday. It was my third visit. I spent about ten hours in the park that day. The Cliff Palace (middle photo) guided tour (ranger-guided tours are mandatory for Cliff Palace and Balcony House, and for Long House, which is only open Memorial Day-Labor Day) was very full, but very well-handled by the comedic and extraordinarily knowledgeable ranger. The architecture and artistry of the “Ancient Ones” is breathtaking up close. Cliff Palace is, as the latest theory goes, apparently more of an ancient storage unit than living quarters. No matter what purpose it served, the entire place is utterly amazing, and it’s a testament to someone’s foresight that the park was not destroyed by a dam (such as thousands of ruins under “Lake Powell”), totally looted by selfish pot-hunters, or otherwise compromised by the most recent settlers of this continent.
I was actually more intrigued by Square Tower House (bottom photo), which visitors cannot access directly but can view from the Mesa Top Loop Road on Chapin Mesa. And the self-guided Spruce Tree House, below the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum, is also beautiful, with a rebuilt kiva to explore and those helpful rangers on hand to answer questions. (I count several past and present national park rangers as friends, and I can only say, bless you all for helping to preserve these places. Even if you do sometimes have to answer dumb questions from the public.)
Tidbits I recently learned about juniper trees, of which plenty can be found all around the park (the entire Southwest, actually): they take eight years to grow one foot in height, and 300 years to achieve a 14-inch diameter (!). So some juniper trees were around to witness the ancient ones living here…imagine that. You might walk by, sleep under, gather nesting from, collect ghost beads from, a tree that an ancestral Puebloan also touched, hundreds of years ago. Makes the mind boggle, no?
Everything really is connected. How hard is that to understand? I admit it is challenging for me sometimes, such as acknowledging my own connection to those forms of life I find distasteful (George W. Bush, certain people in Durango, despots across the globe, the “sleeping” man or woman who sedates him/herself with TV and blindly continues to devastate the earth in minor yet important ways that he/she doesn’t even realize). But we really must do so. It all counts. It really does.
Imagine. A 1500-year-old juniper tree that was present for the cliff dwellings being built. Will today’s young juniper trees still be around 1500 years from now so that our descendants can also marvel over the fact these trees were witness to our existence? Only if we all both become and stay aware….