Michael and I booked a tour of the Balcony House at Mesa Verde National Park for 3:30 in the afternoon. All I could think about all day long, was the damn 32 ft ladder that I was going to have to scale at the end of the day! Never mind the 2 narrow tunnels that I was going to have to crawl through on my hands and knees; it was the ladder that preoccupied my thoughts. We spent the day checking out one “kiva” * after another and explored all the Mesa dwellings above ground before preparing for the tour of the Balcony House at the end of the day that was constructed within the cliffside.
Apparently, these people lived on top of the Mesa for many years hunting bighorn sheep, elk, deer and harvesting corn, beans and squash, and they even domesticated turkeys and had pet dogs during this time. The reason for descending down into the cliffs is still not fully understood, but it appears to be water rights and shelter. War and fighting amongst themselves does not seem to be a factor in this decision.
This particular tour requires that you scale a 32 ft ladder before emerging on top to the back of the house. Before you scale the ladder, you have to walk down 150 stairs. The ranger that was going to be our guide explained to the group that this was a strenuous hike and that climbing a tall ladder and crawling on your hands and knees through 2 narrow tunnels was a prerequisite to exploring the house. All of those not comfortable should avoid the tour. I chose to stay after looking around and deciding that I could do it if these people could. Michael said that once the tour began, I headed up the ladder so fast, it looked like I was having loads of fun! On the contrary, I was just trying to get it over with as fast as possible. Looking down was not an option and we were told to count if you became uncomfortable, keep at least one hand and two feet or two feet and one hand clinging to the ladder rungs at any given time….and if worse came to worse, the ranger would have to assist you in getting to the top. No one had fallen yet! When does climbing a ladder become such a big deal!? Children look at a ladder and think to themselves that the fun has just begun! What is it about becoming an adult that makes climbing a ladder such a big deal? I suppose in this case it had to do with the sheer height of the cliffs! I cannot for the life of me understand how these people managed to live like this. I am truly left in awe of the obstacles these people had to overcome just to survive one day at a time.
Once you get to the top of the ladder and step back and look around, you are amazed at how these people lived!. You actually enter the back of the house and the entrance is actually two very narrow tunnels that the people of the time used to go in and out of the house after squeezing through a rock crevice from up above on the Mesa. The Balcony House is named after a balcony that is constructed below two apparent windows that are actually doors. The view is spectacular and the sound of silence is all that you hear besides a gentle beeeze rustling through the vast opening and far away caw of a single raven.
I survived the climb and was left in awe of a people that lived in these cliff dwellings about 1200 AD. Climbing a ladder was something for me to endure, but these people used toe and hand holds only they knew about! Simple ladders were constructed once inside the house, but the cliffs and travel passages outside the dwellings, those were all done hand to toehold!
* Kiva… thought to be a cooking area that over time became a ceremonial one….