2018: A Year in Ruins

If 2017 was the year of moving to new house and getting married (exciting year), 2018 was the year we decided to start exploring the many ruins of the Colorado Plateau.

This year we visited Walnut Canyon, Wupatki, Montezuma’s Castle, Tuzigoot, and Mesa Verde National Park. This wasn’t the only traveling we did, as we also visited Monument Valley, Durango Colorado, California, Tucson, and Texas; but for this post I’m going to write about the ruins. Our longest, furthest, and most epic exploration was that of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. I knew it was famous, I had heard of Cliff Palace, I had seen some pictures, and frankly I didn’t have high expectations.

I was wrong.

Spanish explorers were the first European settlers to discover this place in the 1700s, after it had already been abandoned for 500 years. That’s crazy to me. Time is so, so vast and we are just little blips in the timeline. I envy those early explorers traipsing across the wild continent of North America and stumbling upon these silent and empty villages, full of pottery and other artifacts that were long ago pilfered and then spirited away to museums. To see a pot under glass in an air-conditioned museum is not quite the same. I long to sit among the ruins in perfect silence, run my hands along the pottery, and imagine the lives of the people who lived so long ago.

The kids were more fascinated than I thought they would be, and the park rangers were very interesting and informative. They were good storytellers. It’s important to remember that the people who lived here so long ago were just like us–a thousand years isn’t that long in human evolution, and physically the Ancestral Pueblo (also sometimes referred to as the Anasazi) were the same, although we are a bit larger due to increased caloric intake and nutrition. They had hopes and dreams and fears, they told stories and and jokes, they complained, they studied the weather, they gossiped about their neighbors. They loved their children.

Mesa Verde is famous for a handful of cliff dwellings that can be explored through guided tours, like Balcony House, where you have to do quite a bit of hiking and climb huge ladders. We practiced at home before we visited, and Aria was pretty proud of her ability to climb without assistance.

The wood and mortar on this dwelling is a thousand years old. The mind boggles.

Mesa Verde also has hundreds of dwellings which are not accessible, some of which can be seen at various outlooks.

One of the best parts of these visits to various ruins over the past year is that the kids have not only learned about the history of the Colorado Plateau, where Flagstaff is located and where they were born and raised, but they have also learned about geology, geography, anthropology, archeology, agriculture, and climate. They’ve learned that everything changes, but some things remain the same, and we love that we can step away from our screens and busy lives and take in the world around us.

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