Wednesday, September 23, 2009


A rainy Saturday night on Market Street, reflected off the hood of an Escalade. I forgot to check if they were rollin’ on 24s.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Painted Lizard

On the way out of the Ute reservation we happened across this little guy sunning himself on a rock. He was a fearless little reptile too – I got within a foot of him before he sprinted off to find a more secluded spot.

Monday, September 21, 2009


There are some nice shots from Mesa Verde that I couldn’t fit into my previous two posts. So here’s a grab bag of the rest of my favorites.

This is another ruin in the Ute reservation. The bridge is over the top of a kiva. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, they didn’t let us walk over the top of it.

This is a view from Eagle’s Nest house in the Ute reservation. You can see the top of the ladder poking above the cliff to the left. It’s about 30 or 40 feet tall, with uneven rungs. I’m not really afraid of heights, but going down that one freaked me out a bit. It didn’t help that the wind kicked up just then.

The Ute have piles and piles of potsherds they’ve found. They’re not at all shy about letting you handle them either.

Some of the rock art in the reservation. You can also see a bit of our Ute guide. He was getting on, maybe 62 or so, but still pretty spry. He said he still does maintenance on the trails and ladders.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ute Reservation

While researching my trip to Mesa Verde, I found that the park is a small chunk out of the surrounding Ute Indian reservation. Unsurprisingly, the ancestral Puebloans who built the cliff dwellings paid no attention to those non-existent divisions, so there are many dwellings in the reservation as well. The tribe runs tours by appointment. I had read good things online, so I decided to spend most of my second day in the reservation. I was a bit nervous when I arrived at the visitor center, which looked like (and was) an old gas station. The guides showed up a bit late. It turned out to be worth the worry, as my tour had only two other people in it.

The Ute expect visitors to be more physically fit than the Park Service does. The ladders are taller, and the ruins are more than 20 yards from a parking lot. This may explain why there are no crowds. We didn’t see anyone that wasn’t on the tour, which was great.

Although you cannot go just anywhere in the ruins, the Ute are much more permissive than the Park Service. You can walk on the ruins in most places where it is safe to do so, which makes it feel much less constrained and museum-like.

Many of the buildings in Mesa Verde National Park are actually reconstructions. The Ute do not believe it is respectful to their ancestors to alter the sites, so they have done no reconstruction and only minimal changes to stabilize the ruins. Even so, the ruins are in remarkably good shape.

The reservation was definitely my favorite part of the trip. If you’re heading down that way I recommend checking them out. The tours are not particularly well publicized, but you can find all the information on their website.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Mesa Verde

My first day in the park I got up at dawn and left camp to explore the park. Nothing is open that early, and none of the other tourists were up, so I explored some of the overlooks. I had all my food in the car, to keep it safe from bears. So I got to my first tour a bit early and had a bowl of cereal in the parking lot. This turned into a habit – in three days I had only two meals at the campsite.

The tours tend to be full, because they’re the only way to get up close to the cliff dwellings. Luckily for me the tour had only nine people on it instead of the normal 40 or 50. Even so, I had a difficult time getting the other tourists out my shots – I don’t think I would’ve gotten anything at all with five times as many people present. The tours are fun for the adventurous, involving steep stairs and some ladders. They’re not really dangerous – it is a national park – but it’s more active than anything I saw at the Grand Canyon.

The cliff dwellings are built into naturally formed cavities in the cliff faces. The cavities are caused by water seepage, so many of the dwellings have seep springs in the back of them.

The pit in this photo is the Balcony House seep spring. At one time it would have been full of water, but the Park Service keeps it drained to prevent water damage.

The buildings are deceptively small. They usually have ceilings maybe five feet tall, and rooms covering only 25 or 30 square feet. The doorways are the size of a small window by today’s standards.

The inhabitants had no beasts of burden, so all the rocks, mortar and wood used to construct the buildings were moved by human muscle. It’s an impressive feat. I have to imagine this is one reason they had tiny little buildings. 

After leaving Balcony House I toured the largest set of dwellings open to tourists, Cliff Palace. Unfortunately that tour was completely full, so I didn’t have the chance to get as many photos.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Just Getting There

It’s been almost a month since my Mesa Verde trip. I think I’ve let the photos marinate long enough now – they do take quite a while to attain the flavor I’m looking for.

It’s about 400 miles to Mesa Verde. There’s lots of great scenery along the way, but by far the most beautiful was the pass above Ouray. The mountains are striking colors, and covered with lush vegetation. There are also hundreds of old mines around, many dating back to the 19th century. The area has produced millions of tons of ore over the years.

At the top of the pass I took a brief stop near this old mining building. The tailings from mines have turned the river bed a striking rust orange. Remediation efforts are underway, but it will take a lot of time.

Apparently I was not the first person to stop there. Good to know that Jesse been here too!

In the end it took about nine hours to get there. I just barely had time to book tours for the next day and set up camp. Tomorrow I’ll start on the photos from the park itself.