Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Power of Teachers


We returned last week from a nearly two-week trip to U.S. National Parks in Colorado, Utah and Arizona. As I tell people, we saw a lot of rocks. And that's true, though it's amazing how different "rocks" can look. It will take awhile to sort through hundreds of photos. Nobody wants the stereotypical slide show from "Aunt Fritz," displaying every photo on "how I spent my summer vacation" - or, in our case, a blow-by-blow account of what we are calling our "retirement trip."

It's hard to choose favorites from our trip. Both Randy and I have several places or experiences that could qualify. But I am convinced that there is an underlying reason for Randy's love of Mesa Verde. It was the first stop of our six National Park visits. However, I think a long-ago second grade teacher is the reason that it was among Randy's favorites.


Granted, it's been a long time since second grade ... for both of us! 

Undated photo of Randy, but likely about 2nd grade

However, Randy's second grade teacher - Laurabel Simpson - loved geography and travel. Even though it's been nearly nearly 60 years, Randy still remembers Mrs. Simpson telling his class about her trip to Mesa Verde. 

It probably hit closer to home for us because our younger granddaughter, Brooke, is currently a second grader. We already knew the importance of teachers in the lives of their students. But maybe comparing that travel enthusiastic second grader from 59 years ago to the 2022 version made it even more poignant.

Mesa Verde National Park was created in 1906 to preserve the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people, both atop the mesas and in the cliff dwellings. 


I had been to Mesa Verde with my family when I was in elementary school. I vaguely remembered it, but I must confess that my memory is not my best asset. Randy had never been.

Cliff House

The Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. It is composed of at least 150 rooms and 21 kivas. It was surrounded by an active community, and it likely served as an important gathering place, perhaps an administrative center for many Ancestral Pueblo villages.  

Two cowboys from nearby Mancos - Richard Wetherill and his brother-in-law Charlie Mason - discovered the ancient dwelling on a snowy day in 1888, while they were herding cattle. The Ute Indians, whose reservation then included Cliff Palace, did know about the site and location, but it was the Wetherill family who made it famous by excavating the site and escorting visitors to it. 

An early visitor to Mesa Verde - Swedish scientist Gustaf Nordenskiold - wrote how "strange and in the mysterious twilight of the cavern, and defying in their sheltered site the ravages of time, it resembles an enchanted castle."

The topography of Mesa Verde offered many advantages to early settlers, including an abundance of natural alcoves in canyon walls. During the late A.D. 1100s, Ancestral Pueblo people began building elaborate multi-room dwellings in the sheltered alcoves. 

 They used the mesas above for growing crops, like corn.

Like modern communities, the dwellings consist of structures intended for different uses: rooms for living, storage or refuse; plazas for public gatherings or work; ceremonial rooms; and towers that offer views of the canyon.

Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House is one of the best preserved cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. Most of the walls, wood and plaster are original. By the late 1270s, up to 19 households, representing 60 to 80 people, lived there. 

Can you imagine climbing up or down out of cliff dwellings? Ancestral Pueblo people reached the mesa tops using hand-and-toe-hold trails carved into the sandstone cliffs. Imagine how treacherous the trails might have been in winter, especially when carrying a child, food, water, firewood or animal carcasses.

The park includes more than 4,500 archeological sites, with some 600 of them cliff dwellings. If you are a hiker, you can get much closer to the dwellings than we did. Today, Mesa Verde protects the cultural heritage of 26 Native American tribes and serves as a sacred place for them, as well as a national park. It's also a World Heritage Site and International Dark Sky Park (though we were there during the day).

Of course, the cliff dwellings were awe-inspiring. But the scenery was pretty spectacular, too.

I'm always amazed at the beauty that grows from rocky soil! Mesa Verde is home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals..

More to come ... once I get photos downloaded and sorted and blog posts written. (I had indicated that I might post to Facebook while we were gone. I decided not to do that. While I'm sure it would have been fine, I've always read it's best not to advertise the fact that you're gone from home.)


  1. Beautiful. Another place I have wanted to visit. For me, it was my 6th grade teacher who had us create a classroom version with clay and milk cartons.

    1. I still think about impactful teachers in my life, too. It's amazing what influence they still have on our lives today. I hope you get a chance to go someday!

  2. Thank you for sharing your trip both with pictures and stories. Fun times and great memories! Tim anonymous 😉

    1. You may get tired of reading about our adventures by the time I'm done, but we did have a good trip. I'm thankful for the opportunity to see more of this beautiful country we live in!

  3. You are both wearing retirement well!
    Sounds like an absolutely wonderful trip and I look forward to seeing and reading more.
    We visited Mesa Verde when visiting our son Matthew at Fort Lewis, Durango. It was stunning. We couldn't begin to imagine the difficulties they would have been faced with to gain entry and exit and hauling precious water.
    It was my year 8 maths teacher's sharing of his love of photography and his visit to Norfolk Island, that determined I would eventually visit and share his passion for this beautiful island.

    1. I love the impact teachers have on our lives. Thanks for sharing!