The motivation for the trip to Colorado in 2023 was the wedding of our niece Samantha to Austin Snell. But since we were going to travel all the way, we decided to add a few days to visit the Mesa Verde National Park.
We got up a little earlier and headed to DTW to catch our plane. Thankfully, Delta runs non-stop flights between Detroit and Denver, so it was actually a fairly pleasant flight. When we got into Denver, we picked up our car at Enterprise, then headed to the Hampton Inn in Aurora. We checked in with Sheila, but our presence was not required at this time, so Cheryl found a nearby Golden Corral, and we went to dinner. Not exactly gourmet fare, but as a buffet we can get exactly the food we require, and that is not so easy at many other restaurants. Then it was back to the hotel for a little Internet time, and then bed.
We breakfasted at the hotel, checked in again, and did not need to do anything until we got to the Rehearsal. That was held at Evergreen Lake, which was about an hour away from Denver, and quite lovely. We had a nice family reunion as people came in. The wedding was set to take place at an activity center right on the lake, which is up in the Rockies. After rehearsing, we went just down the road for dinner, which was quite satisfactory: hors d’oeuvres, salad, pizza, and cake. Then we drove back to the hotel.
Wedding Day! We learned that Samantha and Austin had their first date on June 15 some years back, so that is one reason for choosing this date. We had our own breakfast at the hotel because we tend to be early risers, but later on met with Eileen, Seamus, and Trish for their breakfast, and to have some decent coffee. For some reason, the hotel coffee was completely bland and tasteless, so it was a good opportunity to have something better to drink, and we seized it, then it was back to the hotel for a couple of hours before ironing our good clothes and dressing for the wedding. Then it was back to Evergreen Lake. We got there early enough that we tried for a walk around the lake, but got rained out part-way through and returned to the wedding site. Thankfully, the rain stopped in time for us to do the wedding. I had the great honor of once again walking Sheila down the aisle, as I did at her wedding. Sheila’s company was the caterer for the reception, and it was a delicious dinner. There were some very nice toasts, then of course dancing. Samantha, Austin, and their friends closed the place, but us older folks drove back to the hotel.
With the wedding over and done, our family gathered at Sheila and Dan’s house to spend some time together. We love being together, and the talk went on for several hours. But in the afternoon we decided it was time to leave and let Sheila, Samantha and the family get some rest. We returned to Golden Corral for dinner again, and then back to the hotel.
We got up and had breakfast at the hotel, then hit the road to Mesa Verde. It was a longish drive. about 8 hours or so. When we got to the Far View Lodge and checked in, we found that there was a nice restaurant there, and made reservations for dinner. The room was basic, but it had the essentials of bed and bathroom, including a shower. Dinner was excellent, and we both went with the pan-seared trout. Then we took a walk to check out the path for the morning. The Far View Terrace would serve breakfast for us, and we would get on our tour there, but it was a 10-15 minute walk so we wanted to get the lay of the land. We passed several feral horses on the lodge grounds, and saw signs warning against getting close to them. And it turns out they left some “road apples”on the path we took. But we got our bearings, and then went back to our room and to bed.
We got up and walked down to the Far View Terrace for breakfast, and then at 8am got on the bus for our tour. Our tour guide Gian had been a park ranger for about 20 years, and is also Native American who is a member of the tribal group descended from the people who settled Mesa Verde, so I felt like we were getting some pretty good inside information. Mesa is Spanish for “table”, and is applied to flat-topped mountains in the West because they kind of look like a table with a table cloth on it. The Pueblo people (that is the Spanish name for them, not what they called themselves. The Navajo called them Anasazi, but that means “ancient enemy”, so now we just call them the Ancestral Pueblo People.) lived on top of the Mesa originally. They built settlements there, some of which were dug out a foot or two and then walls and a roof added. We got to see some of these as archaeologists have excavated them. To preserve the remains, they have erected buildings around these excavations to keep out the rain and weather. The soil is very good there because the winds bring up fine silt from New Mexico that is deposited on the Mesa top, and having seen what the winds can do in New Mexico, that is totally believable. They grew corn, beans, and squash, and hunted animals like deer. They were very skilled at making closely-woven baskets that could be lined with pitch and used for cooking by placing water in them and then heated rocks, which could then be used to cook the food.
The Ancestral Pueblo People lived at Mesa Verde for about 700 years, and for most of that time lived on top of the Mesa. But for some reason around 1200 they started building dwellings in overhangs of the cliffs, and then abandoned them 100 years later. The cliff dwellings were reached by climbing down from the top of the mesa in most cases, but the only source of water was the Mancos River, so all water needed to be carried up to the dwellings. Getting to Cliff Palace, which was the one we visited, required going down some very steep stairs, and leaving required both steep stairs and 3 ladders. This is some exertion, but not too bad for most people. In our group there was a blind man being led around by his daughter, and he managed it just fine.
On the way back to Far View Terrace our guide pointed out some sites that we could return to, such as Coyote Village and the Reservoir. So when we got back we had lunch, rested for a bit, and then went to visit them. By the time we were done, the exertion of the tour and the added visits at the altitude of 8,000 feet had taken its toll, so it was time for a nap. Then we went back to the restaurant at Far View Lodge, and had the same meal we had the night before because it was that good.
I learned something nice on this trip. I have been making small loans through Kiva.org for a few years now, which helps people in third-world countries to improve their circumstances. But here I learned that a Kiva is a kind of communal ceremonial building that the Ancestral Pueblo People built. It was a round structure, half buried in the ground, and then covered by a roof. The only entrance was a hole in the center of the roof, and people used ladders to enter or leave the Kiva. One of the features of a Kiva is a hole in the ground called a “sipapu” which represents where the Ancestral Puebloans emerged from the underworld.
We had breakfast again at the Far View Terrace, and then checked out of the lodge. At the entrance to the park we stopped by the Visitor Center so I could get my Passport book stamped, and saw a lovely statue depicting one of the Ancestral Puebloans climbing a cliff with a basket on his back much like a backpack. Then it was another long drive to get to the hotel near the Denver airport. We found a Ruby Tuesday nearby and had dinner.
We had breakfast at the hotel, but it was not very good, and again the coffee was hopelessly bad. If we come to Denver again it might be time to look at alternative hotels, and since we have one more niece living there who is as yet unmarried it could well happen. Then we dropped the car at Enterprise, got the shuttle to the airport, and then back to Detroit. All in all, a pretty good trip. Being in the Rocky Mountains for a week was very nice, and I can see why people like to live there. But I still love Michigan and don’t want to leave.