Tuesday, August 25, 2009
While our legs felt rather rubbery after our hike, soon we had to head back to the overlook for our tour of the Cliff Palace. While waiting for the ranger, I heard a fair number of people griping about how they didn't know you needed tickets to actually go down to the ruin, so I felt better knowing that I was in good company with my own previous ignorance.
The group was about a hundred people, and we made our way past the ranger who was collecting tickets and down the stairs. The Anasazi didn't have anything so easy as a steel staircase to travel between the mesa top and their homes, rather they used precarious hand and toe trails that were cut into the rocks. While I didn't discover this on the tour, which was of dubious educational value, I found later in our Geology of Colorado book just where all of the cliff side caves in this area came from. Water seeps very easily through the upper layers of sandstone that make up the mesa, but when it hits the less permeable layers of shale, it flows to the side, creating springs along the sides of the mesa. The shale is also much weaker rock than the sandstone, so the springs easily erode it way, and the departure of the lower layer of rock has predictable effects on the upper layers, causing cracks and collapses that form the caves that the Anasazi moved into.
The opportunity to see the Cliff Palace close up was amazing, and the extra $3 per person is hardly a hardship, but I must say that the overall experience was less than optimal. The ranger selected a pair of younger travelers, and used them as his conduit of information. He would ask them speculative questions about daily life in Mesa Verde, and then go over the answer with the group. It was a very slow process, often punctuated by Umms and Hmmms from the two assistants. While I did learn that Pinon nuts are an excellent source of calories, I didn't learn much about where the Anasazi came from, why they built their cliff houses or where they went. These are all subjects that I find much more interesting than the nutritional value of nuts.
While the educational value of the tour itself was minimal, the experience of being down in the palace was totally worth it. I would have preferred more freedom to explore, but I can certainly understand why they would place such stringent limits on the amount of tourists and where they are allowed to go.