I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate in a number of ways. I've survived some awful things but have also experienced some wondrous things. One of the greatest fortunes of anyone's life, I think, is to live in a place that they truly love. I live in the state of Colorado, and the beauty and variety of my home state sometimes takes my breath away. On a recent trip to the southwest corner of our state, I was reminded of the amazing variety we have here. We live in the high plains (our city close to Denver has an official elevation of 5,351 feet or about 1,631 meters) and have a wonderful view of our beloved Rocky Mountains. A fairly short drive will take us to these aptly named mountains which stretch the length of our state.
As we drove south and then west on this trip, we saw flat expanses of windblown land that had yet to feel the kiss of springtime. The grasses were brown; most of Colorado is considered semi-arid, AKA nearly a desert. In fact, one of the areas we were close to on our way is Great Sand Dunes National Park. It is nestled in the San Luis Range and has the tallest sand dunes in North America, rising as high as 750 feet. People are known to sled, ski, and snowboard in this shifting high desert.
When we finally turned west, the scenery was incredible.
This photograph was taken west of Monte Vista, Colorado in a moving car. As we continued west/southwest, there were mountains interspersed with expanses of flat areas like you see in the foreground of this shot.
I will share more photos of the journey in later posts, because I want to get to one of the most amazing parts of our trip. There is another National Park that I had never seen, and I was eager to go there well before we started our trip. Mesa Verde National Park is the former home of ancient indigenous Americans. They built homes in the high cliffs of the southwestern part of our state between 550 AD and 1300 AD. They raised corn, beans, cotton, and various other crops on the high mesas, and likely hunted a wide variety of game.
These people scaled cliffs to build their homes, first on top of the mesas and then on the cliff sides between layers of rock. My first glimpse of their incredible homes took my breath away. This dwelling is known as Spruce Tree House.
The first photo is through the window of a Museum/Gift Shop, and the second is from behind the building. Across a deep ravine, you see the remains of where these incredible people lived some 1600 years ago. Many of the cliff dwellings are in great danger. In these photographs you can see black streaks coming down from the mesa, which suffered from devastating fires (caused by lightning) in recent years. Theses fires were followed by cooling rains which put added stress on the rock. Eventually it will crumble and the ruins will be lost to the ravages of Nature and time forever.
All around are cactus, yucca, and juniper trees, all of which are many hundreds of years old.
And then, suddenly, this.
I cannot explain the feelings I had as I walked into the building that protects this ancient home. I am glad that it is surrounded by a fence; many of the cliff dwellings have suffered from wear and tear from the numerous modern visitors walking through. I knew that in walking through the areas around these ancient homes I was walking where they had walked and was standing where their children had played. More than a thousand and a half years ago, this dwelling which is now so very quiet was filled with the bustle of family activity. People slept and dreamt here, they ground corn and cooked meals and fashioned clothing and tools here, amidst beauty such as this.
While we were in this park we saw numerous cliff dwellings from across the ravines. I did not want to tour the ruins close up; although I'd love to see them and walk through them, I don't want to hasten their demise. It is enough for me to have seen them in their incredible settings and marvel at the tenacity of the people who lived there. They lived in this amazing setting for hundreds of years and then moved on. Their homes remain all of these years later to amaze and inspire all who are fortunate enough to see them.
I said at the beginning that it was lucky timing that I hadn't gotten around to writing this earlier. Why? National Park Week is almost upon us, and any National Parks that charge entry fees will have free admissions. Actually it's a bit longer than a week, running April 16 through April 24. If you happen to be near a National Park and can take some time to visit, this is a perfect time to do so. Every one of these parks is unique, and they are all treasures. I hope that if you can't visit one during Parks Week, you're able to enjoy their beauty at some other time.
More road trip adventures to come in the near future!
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