pages fly away 74

Mesa Verde National Park is the oldest archaeological park in America, with remnants of both ancient pueblos and small villages tucked away in rock faces left by the cliff-dwellers.  I’d been there three or four times in my life and knew it to be a place that captures the imagination.  Most people will tell you that the Indians lived in tipis, which some of them did, but they also lived in hogans, adobes, wigwams, longhouses, and stone houses lodged in crevices.  It was really only an hour away to get to Mesa Verde.  I’d started so early I figured I’d get there right when the park opened.

Along the way I passed the Ute Mountain Reservation.  The Utes were hunters and gatherers who began trading with the Spanish in the 17th Century.  After the land was won from Mexico, the United States began paying the Utes five thousand dollars a year to serve as allies against the Navajo.  Eventually, they were confined to reservations. 

In 1879, a band of Utes attacked the agency on the reservation and killed Nathan Meeker and ten of his employees, taking the women and children hostage.  When the army intervened, the Utes killed a major and thirteen soldiers.  This was known as the Meeker Massacre.  In the treaty that followed, the Utes lost most of their land.  Millions of acres became open to be settled by the whites.

When I got to Cortez, I pulled over to gas up and get some coffee.  There were some interesting murals on the side streets, horse rustlers, three men breaking a stallion, kachina dancers, a team of pack mules, four men playing cards with death, as a woman smokes and another holds a hatchet.  By now I was only fifteen minutes away.

I must’ve been the first one at the gate, but then a few cars appeared behind me.  They accepted my National Park Pass, which had now paid for itself ten times over, and almost made up for the fact that they now require reservations to camp, almost.  In this bloated, overpopulated age, it might be necessary to prevent the parks from being overrun, but it is also a damning testament to what has happened to our freedoms. 

Is there any way to just go out there and be spontaneous anymore?  Of course, there is.  I was proof of that.  But it is an endangered way of life.  The pioneers came across open land and just took it for their own.  Now it is risky to find open land and even try to sleep on it.  You might get busted.

The ascent to the visitor center was steep and winding.  If any car got behind me, I just pulled over and let them pass, rather than endure the irritation of feeling pressured to speed up.  As an old principal of mine used to say … Your urgency is not our emergency.  When I got to Point Lookout I pulled over to survey the land below.  The sky was gray and heavy.  The fields, if that’s what they were, looked like mudflats.  The bushes in front of the car were dry and leafless.  I was getting into fall weather.

Leaving that, I passed through a long tunnel, the approaching light at the end feeling like a description of death.  When I burst through, I was close to the visitor center.  There’d be time for that later, if at all.  I was bursting with exuberance, almost bouncing up and down on the seat.  When I got to the first Pit House I leapt out and raced around that sunken divot like I was competing in a pig race.  Then I raced to the Square Tower House and nearly sprinted to the overlook.  This cliff dwelling contains eight kivas, or chambers, and nearly sixty rooms.  It looked like a city termites would live in, with a stone overhang for a sky.

Running as if I were being chased, I moved on to the Pueblos and Pit Houses.  I could hardly contain my exasperation as I got out of the car.  There was more to see ahead.  So much more to see.  When I got to the Sun Point View the village there was partly obscured by trees.  What I could see of it, once again did resemble a termite mound.  The Oak Tree House was closer and a better view.  There were three large circular rooms and a few adjoining ones.  The Sun Temple was right in the open.  You could get out and wander around it.

That was enough.  All I wanted was to drive.  All I wanted was to jump back in the Mountain Bluebird and go soaring across the land.  That’s what the trip had mostly been about, the movement, the little bit of freedom I could make for myself before crashing back down into a quagmire of debt and unemployment.  Flying back down the mountain now was like being on an alpine sled. 

Highway 491 had once been the original highway to hell, highway 666, but was changed in 2003 because many Christians consider that number the mark of the beast, and the many accidents that occurred along it gave some evidence that it could’ve been cursed.  They also couldn’t stop people from stealing the road signs.  It was highway 491 that I took then, in the direction of Dove Creek.  I didn’t care what they called it these days, as long as it got me to Moab.

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