Mesa Verde with My Cousins

The living room floor was covered in gear and supplies all laid out and organized in piles and distinct sections. We were prepping for our overnight backpacking journey up into the San Juan Mountains to camp in a valley by the Ice Lakes. We had to divy up supplies and see whose pack could carry which things. We hadn’t even begun our journey, but I was excited. The spirit of adventure was alive and thriving.

I had never backpacked overnight with anyone and here we were, this was actually going to happen! And for once, I didn’t have to take the lead. My cousin Paul had sought this trail and plan. He had seen it online while in Germany and had been waiting to do it next time he was in the U.S.. I was relieved to be a follower. All I needed to do was make sure I packed what I needed for the adventure. My aunt Mary, cousin Jonathan, cousin Paul and his wife Ines were all packing at the same time, asking each other questions, trading off supplies, helping each other come to decisions about what was best. I loaned Paul an inflatable pillow, and I volunteered to carry the majority of the water supply. Jonathan, volunteered his pack to carry our bear canister with most of our food supply. We weren’t sure if there were even bears in the mountains, but better safe than sorry. Food, however, wasn’t our strongest of priorities, but we packed what would sustain us. We had apples, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, jerky, Clif bars, and trail mix. I had also tucked away in my backpack some electrolyte gummies. I had noticed how useful they had been on other hikes.

A couple of us had hiking backpacks, but some of the others had standard back-to-school type backpacks bulging with supplies. So we got creative, tying things to packs with ropes and miscellaneous straps. We didn’t have the most expensive backpacking gear, but we were going to make this work.

When we finished packing, I went out on the terrace of the abode-like apartment Airbnb we were staying in, and sat there with Paul and Ines. We were relaxing and snacking on some vegetables and cherries, enjoying the summer heat slowly fade in the late evening, and writing in the guest book for the Airbnb. The host lived in an apartment on the bottom floor of the building. I had never met her, but the others had been there for a couple days and apparently she had been very friendly and had even brought a homemade breakfast bread to them. I was able to sample it. It was delicious. Although I do not remember exactly what the note we wrote in her guest book was, I’m sure there was appreciation expressed for her bread.

Sometimes it’s the most simple things that stick out more apparent in our memories. Sitting here on this terrace with my cousins is just such a fond memory of mine. Three things about it made it special to me. First off, it was a conclusion of such a fine day. We had spent the day touring around Mesa Verde National Park. It was also the eve of a grand adventure into the San Juan Mountains, and it was also the joy and comfort of reconnecting and resting in the company of family after having been alone for weeks.

In the morning, we had arrived at Mesa Verde early, shortly after the park opened. We wanted to make sure we could secure tickets for a tour of the Cliff Palace. It was a success, and my Aunt Mary kindly purchased the tickets for all of us. I then made sure we all stopped to see the park film, because personally, we know, for me, a National Park visit is not complete without seeing the park film. After that, we went on a short hike up to the top of the mesa where we took some nice cousinly photos and looked down at the windy road we had ascended in the park.

Our tour of the Grand Palace went well. The tour took us down around and inside the famous rock houses that comes to most minds when Mesa Verde is mentioned. The large and intricate rock house city hidden under the overhang of the mesa was impressive. There were about fifteen of us on the tour.  We were guided and informed by a round native american park ranger, with a black braided ponytail sticking out behind his ranger hat. He carried with him a spray bottle, and along the tour he asked us tourists trivia questions. If any of us were correct we earned a spray from his bottle. It sounds silly, and I thought it was a little much at first, but the second time I answered a question correctly I gladly accepted a spray. The dry summer heat of southern Colorado is oppressive, any relief should always be accepted.

What’s most fascinating to me about Mesa Verde is how the inhabitants of this place seemingly suddenly disappeared. No one knows what happened to them. It’s believed that at its prime 22,000 people lived here. There is speculation that drought led them to other places where they assimilated into other native cultures. To me that doesn’t make sense. How could a civilization build an entire city like this and have the resolve to abandon it and move to another location? Furthermore how could there be no history of this migration and assimilation of one people group into another. Let’s imagine for a moment they migrated and into the  Navajo or Ute society. Wouldn’t their certainly be history, or at least legends, of such a large invasion of another people group. It doesn’t add up to me. These people literally disappeared from Mesa Verde, leaving no trace nor evidence, which leads me to certainly not yet believe but still entertain the thought of some sort of extraterrestrial intervention. Call me crazy, but it’s also the wild imagination I have that allows to me speculate and entertain the thought. It’s fun to conjure up your own theories to the matter.

Mesa Verde, unlike many National Parks, doesn’t have an abundance of recreational opportunities. There are not a lot of hiking trails, and the terrain is not terribly unique in my opinion. The main attraction are these rock houses, and they are justly deserve all the attention they get, but, in all my experiences, this part seems more like a National Historic Site. However, curious enough, how could it be a Historic Site, if we really don’t know that much about the people who lived here nor a timeline of their events. It could be something new: a National Mystery Park.

Leaving Mesa Verde, we headed into Durango, Colorado. A classic railroad town turned tourist hub. We walked around Main Avenue, which is lively with numerous restaurants, cafes, and shops. Most of the buildings were made of brick with arched windows, and tasteful facades that were true to the architecture of the buildings the represented. We were looking for a place to have a mid day meal.

The downtown had a classic small town feel to it. We got distracted from seeking food to looking at t-shirts. Aunt Mary wanted a Durango t-shirt, and so we went into a few t-shirt shops. Durango had been a special place for the her, because here is where they got on the historic Durango and Silverton Train and took it out to go white water rafting. Also Aunt Mary rarely gets to see her kids, as they all live so far away. I also purchased a t-shirt, because although I didn’t  get to see much of Durango, it is where I got reunited with my aunt and cousins. That held significance.

Our mid day meal proved to be tasty. We ate at a local brewery with very atypical and delicious burgers. I believed mine included avocado and mango. I remember my cousins had asked me how my brothers were doing. I told them about Timothy graduating from college and seeking his place in the world, and telling them about my older brother, Nathan. They hadn’t heard all the details of how Nathan’s chocolate company, Raaka Chocolate,  in Brooklyn had grown into a new factory and how my brother has really become a leader in the connoisseur chocolate world.

After our meal, we ran a few errands, popped into Dairy Queen for a treat, and headed back to the Airbnb, where we began our package and assembly party, getting ready for the adventure the following day. We also had to clean up the place, as we were checking out early the next morning and wouldn’t be back. The day ended with me sitting out on the terrace with my cousins munching on the fruit and vegetable tray we had put together. The day had been full and rich, and so I relaxed in the peace of a day well spent and the anticipation of the adventure ahead.

Cousin Paul at the Cliff Palace

Read the next entry “Backpacking in the San Juan Mountains,” here:

Read the previous entry “On the Great Sand Dunes,” here:




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