Wednesday, August 6, 2008

We awoke after a brutal night. The rain started with a mellow patter before whipping up into a frenzy of wind and slashing bands. Vienna had wisely chosen to sleep in the car, but Jenny and I were determined to ride the storm out in our tent. For hours, the rain and wind reached ever more fierce crescendos until breaking from time to time. At those moments, I'd think that we'd seen the worst of it before drifting off -- only to be woken again but more violent storms.

Gradually we began to notice a metal tinkling-sound as support stakes holding down our rain-guard began to whip in the wind. I should add that we'd hoisted that guard only after Vienna's insistence; I was certain there would be no rain. I laughed about this inwardly as the entire tent seemed to convulse while supports struggled to and fro.

We placed our shoes upward against the inside edge in hopes that water would stop gathering near the seams. Portions of our blanket were already drenched, and I began to prepare myself for the inevitable: a wrecked tent and a quick race through the rain to the car. But little by little the wind died down. I never did conclude that the storm had passed; I simply fell asleep from exhaustion. The next morning, sunlight peaked through the clouds as we arose to find the tent no worse for the wear. Actually, it was a lovely morning for what we've only now learned is Mesa Verde's monsoon season.

After doing our best to dry our gear, we headed back around the mesa to our morning tour of the Balcony House. The site, a relatively small dwelling said to house about 40 people, called for us to climb ladders, crawl through tunnels and generally experience what our park ranger tour guide described as "Disneyworld Without Seatbelts." One woman in particular was terrified at the prospect of climbing the first tall ladder into the cliff dwelling, but encouragement from her family and even some strangers urged her on. Jenny in particular loved the tour; she so enjoys learning new things about ancient peoples. An hour later we were climbing back to the staging area, tired but pleased with our morning adventure.

With a few hours before our second tour, we drove the mesa loop, photographing other dwellings, and even catching sight of the majestic Cliff Palace, the site that convinced me that this place was an essential stop on our tour. By this point we all were fairly tired, so we found some seats across a canyon and enjoyed a perfect view of the Palace. Storm clouds had returned and I gave up my ambitions of getting one of those cool photos I'd seen on postcards; I'd just be happy to tour the place up close. Vienna read the new Twilight book that just came out while Jenny enjoyed a nap. I simply enjoyed the vibe of a relaxing afternoon.

When it came time for our tour, drops of rain began to fall, and we considered briefly whether it'd be worth the hassle. But we'd come this far and waited this long, so we joined the group and began our descent from the cliff top. Getting closer and closer to the Palace, I became even more excited about this tour. There's something amazing about seeing this metropolis -- towers, stairs, multiple levels -- sized for about 120 people. Best of all, the sky lightened and the sun eventually reappeared. I knew I'd get the pictures I wanted, and I practically wished the tour would conclude early so that I could return to a good vantage point to see the whole thing in one frame. After an hour of learning about the ancient peoples who built this community over a century before departing to an unknown fate, we felt satisfied that we'd had a great visit to Mesa Verde.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was dedicated to winding roads and hairpin turns almost from the edge of Durango through to our final destination: Gunnison. On the map, the route is bordered by those "scenic roadway" dots. In theory, that's good news. And indeed the journey was beautiful as we careened through mountains and valleys, alongside rippling streams and under cobalt colored clouds. But a combination of slow moving traffic, heavy downpour, and increasing exhaustion resulted in a tough trip that lasted until about nine at night. Finally we turned into Gunnison's Water Wheel Inn, enjoying the hospitality of a proper hotel after a tough night of camping. Ah, the joys of comfy beds and wireless internet. By the way, we've also rededicated ourselves to completing that Cliff Palace puzzle when we get home.

All text copyright Andrew Wood.
Photos copyright Andrew and Jenny Wood.