Here is the 32′ ladder we had to climb as part of the Balcony House tour at Mesa Verde National Park! Two people side by side at a time. I can barely look at the picture now without my hands shaking. Which they did for 2 hours after finishing the tour. We had the best tour guide, learned a ton about how the Ancestral Publeans lived in this cliff house dwelling, and loved every minute of the hour tour. This ladder was the first obstacle, then there was a 12′ tunnel to climb through. Ick. Behind strangers. Gross. As we stood listening to the guide, I calmed down and thought, “whew, I made it through” and was so proud of myself. Then we went around the corner and I saw that there were two more ladders – both of these with the same backdrop – nothing – if you fell off – argh!!! What?! I thought we were done.
Here’s part of the Balcony House! Built hundreds of feet off the valley floor, on the side of the cliff. When Dan and I toured here in 1998, they called the people who lived here the Anasazi, which is no longer correct. That term means “ancient enemy” in another language, which is incorrect because the people calling them that were the foreigners, not the cliff dwellers. Also, they told us in 1998 that they didn’t know what happened to this group of people, that they occupied this area 1400 years ago, but then just disappeared.
Now they’ve done more research and have figured out that the Ancestral Publeons had depleted the resouces of the area by cutting down all the available trees for building homes and burning for fuel, they killed all the large animals and were only eating smaller animals, and there was a long drought. Tribe members from southern New Mexico and Colorado have come forward in recent years and explained how their ancestors were from Mesa Verde and they know from the stories that were passed down. Also, the scientists studied the garbage and learned many more details. We were glad to hear an explanation that made sense.
After dinner back at the rig, we took a hike up to the mesa near the campground. It was 2 miles straight up and we were racing as fast as we could go because the sign at the trailhead said you had to be off the trail by sunset – which is what we had gone up there to see in the first place! It was a beautiful night for a hike and the bugs weren’t out, yeah. Nate had so much energy that he RAN down the trail in 15 minutes. We saw him flying across the meadow at the bottom and couldn’t believe it! Then he ran back up to join us.
The next morning we drove an hour out to the far mesa and took the tour for Long House. Dan and I hadn’t been able to get out to this mesa in 1998 because they don’t allow RV’s over 25′ to drive out the crazy winding road, and they wouldn’t let us ride our bikes or hitchhike out. I am so happy that we got to go this time! It was definitely our favorite tour of the whole park and well worth making the reservations and paying $4/each. It took two hours and the ladder was easy compared to the other tours. If you can only do one tour, do this one! And by the way, it should technically be called Questa Verde because a mesa is flat, and all of them in the park have a 7 degree angle; they aren’t flat. When we asked a ranger why they don’t rename the park, he said all the marketing is already set up for Mesa Verde. Whatever the name, go visit, it’s breathtaking and you’ll learn a ton. Just beware the ladders…