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Mesa Verde Car Camp
May 31 - June 3, 2001
by Ben Velasquez and Elaine Cobos
Photographer: Chuck Parsons
Trailblazers at Mesa Verde, on the road to ruins.

In no particular order, the Mesa Verde car camp trip was enjoyed by Elaine Cobos, Ben Velasquez, Chuck Parsons, Glenn Kappel, Fred Abele, Tim McAlpin, Kathy Robertson, George Mansor, Rudy Arredondo, Rob Shillingburg, Alexis Velasquez, Chad Turner, Pete Hombach, John Hilty, Kari Lipovics, Joe Michalides, Marilyn Guidorizzi, and John Guidorizzi. This trip report is a combination of the thoughts of the two intrepid trip leaders – Ben and Elaine.

For many, this trip started on Wednesday, May 30, 2001, with side trips up north or to the Rim, staying in the cool pines at various hideaways in the mountains. Still more left the valley as early as possible on Thursday, May 31, 2001, for the long trek into Colorado, meeting up with the rest of the bunch at Mesa Verde National Park to begin a four-day camping trip. The group site they gave us still had trees at the edge of the circle, unlike the hills behind us that had been scorched in last year’s fires. Those fires closed the park for over 23 days.

Hikers climb to the second
level of Balcony House.
Balcony House Ruins
One final ladder to climb.
Upper Ruins of Balcony House
Upper Ruins of Balcony House
Up, up, and away.
Cliff Palace
Cliff Palace
Square Tower House
Meanwhile, back at the campground ...
Canyon View
Far View House
Multiple doorways into Far View House.

The typical mis-adventures of being a trip captain followed. I tried to get organized for the next day by pre-purchasing tour tickets, something I had checked into beforehand. Unfortunately, I failed to ask and they failed to mention that a maximum of five (5) tickets can be purchased the day in advance of any tour. So, being the devoted trip captain, we just adjusted our schedule accordingly to ensure no break in enjoyment by our fellow campers.

This trip was certainly extremely educational as well as fun. Some of the educational things included attending the nightly ranger talks at the campgrounds. The first night enthralled me with old time photos of the early park development, i.e. the white man’s version of the park development. What I enjoyed most was the fact that the ranger’s own father had been one of the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) boys who worked in the park on projects in the depression 30's. Many of those CCC projects are reasons we have some beautiful national park infrastructure today.

Glenn, Joe, and Fred tour the ruins of Far View House.
Ceremonial Kiva

A ranger who was a Pueblo Indian from New Mexico gave the second ranger presentation. His name was Ben, and he spoke about the legends of the animals of the Southwest and how they came to have their names and traits. He primarily spoke of the coyote. They were stories told to him by his grandmother growing up, a living example of the oral traditions of the Indians.

The third ranger presentation seemed to thrill the bulk of our crowd the best. Most of our folks stayed behind to visit with the speakers. They were rangers who had worked the wild fires last year. There were two large fires that burned last year in Mesa Verde National Park. The ranger spoke about the difference between civilized fires and wild fires. We learned how fires get named, basically by where they started before they took off. We learned about the dangers of fighting these fires, including how to hunker down under a thermal space type looking blanket as a fire rages over you if it turns back on you. This was definitely thrilling stuff.

Other educational stuff obviously involved the tours we took of the Indian ruins. On Friday, we did two tours, one to Balcony House and the other to Cliff Palace (Both on Chapin Mesa). Each was a one hour guided tour. Our tour guide for the Balcony House tour was a college student who was part Navajo. The Navajo Indians, who now live in the area, are not related to the people who built these structures, as the Navajo came from Canada some time later. The tour was great. We climbed down into the cliff dwelling, which was bigger then I anticipated. The workmanship was great considering they had no modern tools. Several families lived here, they think, and each family may have had its own kiva for there were several. Chuck hung back taking pictures and more pictures. At the end of the tour we had to climb out through a very tall ladder. Of course, the teenage boys thought that was the best part.

Between tours, many of us had lunch of sandwiches made with Indian fry bread. The boys returned to camp to rest. Most of us went to the museum before we met up at 2pm for the second tour close to the museum, Cliff Palace. Again, the size of the dwelling and the building feat was amazing. Our tour guide here looked and acted like he would be at home here among the Indian antiquities or riding around on an antique Harley – a real throwback to the 60's, ponytail and all.

On Saturday, we rode out to take the 1.5-hour Long House tour on Wetherill Mesa. It’s a long drive that takes you through various burns. It’s interesting to see how Nature reconstructs after something so destructive. Amazingly enough, Long House was not damaged even though everything around it was burned to a crisp. We were fortunate enough to have Ben, our Native American ranger from the previous night’s ranger talk, as our tour guide. He related stories of life in the modern Pueblo Indian traditions that give us clues to how life may have been for the Ancient Ones who were in these cliff dwellings in the 1200-1300 AD timeframe. Before then, they lived on top of the surrounding mesas for nearly a thousand years.

Friday evening was the group dinner and was a fine example of the fun we had on this trip, despite learning so much. Every one prepared their dinner plus extra to share with others. There were salads, hamburgers and hotdogs, baked beans, spaghetti with sausage, and other favorites. For dessert, Marilyn made the best brownies. There was a mad dash for them, but fortunately everyone got to eat them. A good time was had by all.

Probably the best example of fun and learning was the new fireside trick we learned. John Hilty’s niece, Kari, who was visiting from Florida, told us that if we wanted to keep smoke from coming to us, we should say “I hate rabbits.” This incantation was supposed to send the smoke in some other direction. Of course, we proceeded to confuse the fire with us all saying, “I hate rabbits.”

As usual, Rudy followed his own path. He deserted us one night for greener pastures. He had to indulge in one of his favorite pastimes other than hiking, namely dancing. His exploits are known far and wide in the states surrounding the Four Corners area. Friday night, he headed into Alamosa, Colorado, for some fancy two-stepping. Maybe he’ll teach a class at the next meeting or on the next hike.

Fred, Glenn, and Joe at Canyon de Chelly.
View of Spider Rock from the rim.
White House Ruins
View from the South Rim of Canyon de Chelly.
View from the South Rim with White House Ruins at far right.
View into Canyon de Chelly showing Navajo agricultural fields.
View of Chinle Wash in Canyon de Chelly.

These are but a few of the things to be seen and done in Mesa Verde. There were hikes taken by our group, including one to view petroglyphs. There were a few ruins that were self-guided, Spruce Tree House and Step House, that invited you to pause and contemplate this past existence we had come to visit.

Certainly, Mesa Verde is a place worth visiting more than once. Be sure to check out the park’s extremely informative website before planning a trip: Mesa Verde National Park.

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updated May 24, 2020