We uncertainly entered the day after our tours through Mesa Verde. There were a couple things that we thought we might want to do, but we knew were weren’t going to do everything on the list. When our son woke up, his first goal was to start working on the mini Cliff Palace that he had purchase the day before. He dumped all of the tiny pieces on the table only to discover that it was missing one of the two base plates. Suddenly, driving to the non-NPS gift shop in the middle of the park became part of the itinerary. (Note: if you can, try to purchase the majority of your NPS souvenirs from an actual NPS run store. The money goes straight to supporting the parks and the items will often, but not always, cost a little less. At least, that last hint was the case with our son’s Cliff Palace model.)
Once everyone was finally awake and had eaten breakfast, we loaded up the truck so that we could make it to the visitor center by 10:00, the time we believed there was going to be a demonstration of a Hopi corn dance. We got there in time, but then realized that I had left the park pass at the camper and learned that the first presentation was actually at 11:00. We got back into the truck, drove the twelve minutes back to the camper, and then drove straight back into the park so that we could at the very least exchange our son’s purchase.
We successfully exchanged the model and headed back to the visitor center, where we purchased the last items that we still wanted from the park. We then waited outside for the 12:00 demonstration.
The NPS has an incredibly complicated relationship with local indigenous tribes near each of the national parks, battlefields, and memorials. There is this clear awareness of needing to both recognize that the land the parks sit on was taken, in one way or another, from Native American tribes. But there is also a strong desire to educate those who visit the parks about the history of the local tribes and clumsily attempt to make up for years of mistreatment and oppression. Our Cliff Palace tour guide had been certain to point out the need to respect the cliff dwellings, an attitude that we have found to be consistent with most park rangers. And it is clear that, at least within the NPS system, there is a clear desire to work on those relationships and educate the general public about the history, contributions, and struggles of indigenous tribes.
I was cautious about watching a Hopi demonstration because I was somewhat concerned about how my kids would respond. After all, it is completely different than anything that they are used to. At the same time, I want them to respect all cultures and understand the complexities of US history relating to indigenous peoples. The kids participating in the demonstration, fully decked out in traditional dress, did a good job and both of our kids left with more knowledge about the Hopi people, our son exclaiming that it was “awesome.” While not perfect, it was exposure that they don’t get living in the middle of a major US city and I was thankful that the local Hopi people feel it is important to continue to share their history and culture with those visiting the parks.
We enjoyed a lunch at Dairy Queen, happy to get away from our daily sandwich fare, and then I said “Let’s try to find Yucca House.”
Ok, sometimes I have a problem with going on a quest for passport stamps. I had seen that it was on the list of local memorial sites and since we were less than 30 minutes away (at least according to Google Maps) I figured it wasn’t such a terrible thing for us to check it out.
But I should have looked more closely on the NPS website.
I had been warned by the ranger working the information desk the first night that we arrived in Cortez. She highly recommended that we go to Hovenweep National Monument and when I said something about Yucca House she said, “Just to warn you, it’s a little awkward. It is there, but you will have to drive past a person’s house to get there.”
That might have been a slight understatement. According to the NPS website, “Currently, there are no signs directing you to Yucca House. The monument is surrounded by private land. Once you leave the main highway, the road to Yucca House becomes gravel or dirt, which may be impassible in wet weather. You may need to pass through livestock gates and close them behind you.” Again, that might have been a little of an understatement.
What we discovered was a sign on the fence next to the road saying “No Trespassing.” We continued to follow the Waze directions, the kids freaking out in the backseat because they were convinced that we were going to get arrested for trespassing. Jeff said, “This is starting to feel like Ohio all over again.” He wasn’t entirely wrong. The road ended at a house that was clearly privately owned. We chose to turn around. After reading the Trip Advisor reviews (an average 3.5 rating), we’re not the only ones. We believe in supporting our national parks, but we draw the line at crossing personal property.
We had some choices. We could continue on the hour drive to Hovenweep or Four Corners, or we could just return “home” to chill. We chose to relax the rest of the day. The kids and Jeff went swimming, I did laundry, and we ate with just enough time to prepare for friends from Houston who had just arrived in the Mesa Verde region for their summer vacation. Their two older sons are in the same classes with our kids so they were all pretty happy to see some friends and have some non-sibling time. It was good to sit and visit with friends before they had to head to their hotel to get some pre-exploration sleep.
And we went to sleep for our last night in Colorado.
The next morning was slow rush to get back on the road. It wasn’t going to be a long drive so we waited until the last minute before we had to be out of the campground, then we started out.
At 115 miles, our drive from Cortez to Moab was supposed to be our easiest travel day of sixteen days of vacation.
And then 40 minutes away from the KOA we hit stopped traffic. As we sat there one emergency vehicle after another drove past us on the left. I got out, grabbed computers and lunches from the camper and then heard the roll of mountain thunder. As we waited, drops started falling on the truck. Then the drops got heavier and brought with them small pieces of hail that bounced off of the hood and windshield. We started to see traffic moving in the other direction and got excited, but it was just people who were pulling out to turn around and find another route, which we didn’t have the luxury of doing.
Eventually, one of the members of the construction crew (because of course, we were also in a construction zone) walked through the rain and hail to let us know that there had been a traffic fatality and he didn’t know how long it would take. He was sending vehicles that had the ability back to another highway, but there was no way that we could do that, so we just waited it out, finally turning off our audiobook because the raindrops were drowning out the sound.
We pointed out to the kids that unlike one or more people at the front of the long line of vehicles, we all got to go “home” together. Our long wait on what was supposed to be our shortest day on the road was still far from what another family was or would soon be experiencing.
Jeff did some work, I did some writing, the kids did some reading, and I made lunches. Two hours later we were finally moving on to Moab.
When we finally pulled into the Moab KOA, we were all eager to meet up with Jeff’s sister, who came down from Denver to meet us and explore for the next couple of days and try out the campground’s beautiful pool. Because we got in much later than planned, I took a quick swim with the family and then left for the Arches visitor center so that I could pick up maps and Junior Ranger books before they closed at 5:00. I was ready to plan our next National Park adventure.