More Amazon Pictures

 Tessa playing with the kids in the Quichuan village

Tessa and Maria in the school

Tessa Tristan and Claudio

Standing in front of the Shaman trees.  This huge tree is used by the Shamans to enter the underworld.

 

Pineapple. We bought them for fifty cents in the market

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado Snow!

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We really weren’t expecting snow on this trip.  I mean, September 30???  Snow???

Driving from Mesa Verde to Rocky Mountain National Park was tough on our RV.  The roads were  steep, “Awesome” was really straining sometimes. The view was really beautiful.   Then we had the wind. The forecast called for gusts of up to 75 miles per hour and we reached our KOA campground in Estes Park, right outside Rocky Mountain National Park,  just in time.  Even though we were protected by trees and other campers, the wind still rocked the RV.  Dan decided not to use the pop outs that night.  The next morning we still had wind, and storm clouds were gathering over the peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Our plan was to enter the park, and drive across Trail Ridge Road.  Trail Ridge Road was 8 miles across and  11,000 feet high  connecting the east side of the park to the west side.  It’s highest point was 12,183 feet.  With the winds, the coming storm, we knew this was not a job for “Awesome”.  Fortunately, nearby we were able to rent a very small car.  We  loaded up with drinks, cameras, snacks, and as we found out later, not near enough warm clothes, and headed into the gathering storm.

The roads inside the park are very well marked and maintained. It was easy to find our way.  First stop was the Ranger Station to pick up the Junior Ranger books, and watch a movie about the park and the building of Trail Ridge Road.  It was amazing to me that this road was started in the 1920′s.  How in the world did they have the equipment to do that??   Driving through the park we stopped at a turnout to watch a large herd of Elk, lounging in a beautiful meadow, below a snow kissed peak.  The road climbed quickly, and as it did, the sky got darker and the wind stronger.  Suddenly, the snow came, gently at first, then harder and harder.  Dan pulled the car onto an overlook and  we all got out to see the “view”.  The wind whipped the snow harshly into our faces, making it VERY cold and VERY hard to walk.  We loved it though!  We laughed, jumped up and down to keep warm, and the kids tried to catch snowflakes on their tongue.  Growing up in the midwest, sometimes we would get an early snowfall at Halloween, but snow in September?  Incredible!!!  When we couldn’t bear the cold any longer, we raced as best we could against the howling wind back to the car, laughing all the way.  Along the way we passed a group of young Asian tourists, laughing and enjoying the snow as much as we were. 

The higher we went, the harder the snow came down.  The wind grew stronger and the snow was really starting to accumulate.  We had reached the highest spot, 12,000 feet and we could barely see the road.  I kept telling Dan we needed to turn around.  Not only could we not see, there was a real danger of us getting to the end of Trail Ridge Road (we were almost there), the Park Rangers closing the road and not letting us go back.  If that happened, we would have to drive south, through the west side of the park, then head east, then back north to Estes Park, probably about a 4 or 5  hour drive.  Since it was nearly 4pm now, that would not be a fun time.  But where to turn around?  It was impossible to see.   We couldn’t see if anything was in front of us, or coming from behind us.  One side of the road was the top of the ridge, the other was a sheer drop off.  Good times!!!!!! Thankfully the car was small, and didn’t need much room. Dan took a chance and in a very long 5 point turn, had us heading back down the mountain. As we hit the lower altitudes, the snow turned into rain.   Later, we found out that at 4:00pm that day, Trial Ridge Road was officially closed for the winter. 

We spent the rest of our time in the park at the lower altitudes. There was plenty of see. elk, ealges, and a beautiful lake.  We spent a day in Boulder and found the best bookstore we have ever been in.  It was a local place called Boulder Bookstore and had 4 floors of books, used and new.  We were in heaven!  

Our campground was closing for the season in a couple of days, (another thing we hadn’t planned on) so we knew we had to reluctantly move on.  We spent another day driving through the park and watching the elk.    This was peak mating season and we were warned again and again to stay away from the elk.  For the first time we were able to hear their mating call.  What a surprise.  The sound was a high pitch bugle, followed by a series of yips.  During the “yip” part, the male Elk urinates on himself and that attracts the females.  Go figure.  Tristan and Tessa finally finished their Junior Ranger book, and after some serious quizzing by the Park Ranger, they received their 4th badge. 

With the winds staying high, we decided not to visit Pikes Peak (14000 feet) and instead headed straight for another tourist area, the Royal Gorge.

Mesa Verde National Park Colorado

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Mesa Verde National Park was an enigma for us. We knew very little about the park, but we had heard about “cliff dwellings” and most would agree, some of the best preserved sites were at Mesa Verde. Getting simply to the first visitor center at Mesa Verde, 15 miles inside the park, was an achievement in itself. The road seemed to go straight up at times as we headed to 8500 feet. Around every curve, the narrow shoulder dropped off sharply to the valley below. Up here, you could see for miles. The trees eventually gave way to a much more rocky terrain, and later, at the very peak of the park, we could see the charred tree trunks and blackened limbs, the remains from a major fire in 2000, burning over 21,000 acres in the park.

Our first order of business was getting a campsite. Camping was always reasonable in a state park that was why we liked them so much. Plus, the campsites weren’t on top of one another, you felt like you had some privacy. The Morefield Campground was exactly what we wanted. All the full hookup sites were taken, but the campsites were large. The terrain was rocky with shrub trees, but in the late afternoon, herds of deer, Does with their fawns, crept their way to the edges of the campground.

At the Visitor Center, we signed the kids up for the Junior Ranger program, and reserved tours for the Cliff House later that day, and the Balcony House the next day. The Cliff House was the pride and joy of Mesa Verde. So much so, that you can only see it with a Ranger, on a group tour, with up to 65 people, in under an hour, and really not get that close. It was awful! Our group wasn’t that big, about 45 people. We gathered under the hot sun, at the top of the rim, straining to listen to the park ranger talk about mundane aspects of the park, and what we would see. He told us we would be heading down some steep steps, about 100 feet down, then as we left the Cliff House, we would head up a ladder about 8 to 10 feet. The tour would last an hour. It didn’t take a genius to figure out with this many people, going down and up, we would have very little time at the site itself. That’s exactly what happened. After descending the steps, we were told to stop just outside the dwellings, to wait for everyone to catch up, and to let the previous group already at the site, clear out. As we waited, our guide told us a little history. It was originally settled by the Ancient Puebloans. The Ancient Puebloans were for centuries referred to as the Anasazi, which was a derogatory term given them by the Navajo. It meant Ancient Enemy, so now, in the world of political correctness, the name has been changed to Ancient Puebloans. The site is not entirely as it was originally. Years ago, the park service hired an archeologist to fix up the ruins, and you can see his “repairs.”

As we were finally allowed to walk on the site, our guide admitted that not much is known about Cliff House, built in the 1200′s AD, as far as what it’s purpose was. Two theories: one that it was a living quarters, the second that it was administration, maybe storage. We were allowed very limited access to the site. We weren’t allowed to touch the walls, and had to stay huddled together which was very annoying, especially after having nearly total freedom at Machu Picchu. From what we could see and feel, we agreed with the theory that this was an administration area. One thing our travels in Peru had taught us was to “feel” the place as well as look at it. Cliff Palace faced west, not east. If people actually “lived” here, instead of “worked” here, their homes would not get light until late morning when the sun could make it over the rim. Second, it just didn’t have a good feel to any of us. That’s hard to explain. When you visit several historical sites, like we had in Peru and some in the US, and you’re allowed as much time as you want to wander around and really “feel” a place, you will feel the emotional footprint left by the inhabitants. Cliff Palace felt cold to us. Not welcoming. My guess was that it was a hospital or a prison, if they had such a thing. But none of us got a warm fuzzy feeling from it. After a ten minute lecture while actually standing in front of Cliff Palace, our time was up and we were hurried up the ladder and out of the site. The most disappointing tour I have ever been on.

Our Cliff Palace tour was so disappointing that we almost didn’t go on the Balcony House tour the next day. But since we already paid, and the kids needed it for their Junior Ranger badges we decided to go. We are so glad we did! What a great tour. Yes, it was ranger led, but this early morning the group was smaller, only about 15 of us, and the tour involved crawling through a short cave, climbing up 60 feet on steps carved into the rock face, and then up a ten foot ladder. Yes!! Our ranger was fantastic. Again, he admitted they didn’t know what the purpose of Balcony House was, but it was a general consensus it was living quarters. That felt right. It faced more towards the east and the feeling was lighter. He showed us the Kiva. A Kiva is a gathering/ceremonial center. It is dug deep into the ground, has a firepit in the center, and is covered with tree branches. In ancient times, families would gather here for warmth and ceremony. Our guide also showed us the elaborate heating system the Ancient Puebloans devised to move heat and air throughout the Kiva. It was amazing to see how inventive they were! Because our group was small, we were allowed to walk all around the site. To see this site up close, actually touch places where the Ancient Puebloans had touched so long ago was great. To have more time, to just sit and take in the site, was priceless. We were so glad we didn’t miss this tour.

We spent the rest of that day touring the other sites, like Spruce Tree house, that you could visit on your own. You could even climb down inside a Kiva here. The kids needed to visit most of the sites to finish their Junior Ranger books and earn their badges. It seems the further east we went; the harder it was to earn the badges. They had to visit most of the sites, and answer questions about them, identify animal and plant life, and a lot more. It was impressive to see how much they were learning. As we were driving, we passed a coyote on the road and stopped to take pictures. He was as curious about us as we were about him and came up close to the RV. Deer were very plentiful and we saw the occasional elk. When we got back to the campsite that night, the deer were enjoying a late afternoon feeding.

That night in the campground, I finished the dishes and looked out the RV window. The fire was started and the kids were huddled around it, trying to keep warm. I grabbed the marshmallows and headed out into the cold. Dan had his book light on, trying to read in the pitch blackness, and Tessa and Tristan gave me excited smiles anticipating the S’mores. I looked up and see the thousand of stars above and my heart fills with happiness. This was why I was here, to experience life, to see the world, to see nights like this with my husband, my children. I forget that sometimes. I get so caught up in other things or other people’s perceptions and I forget what a gift God has given me. To have this time, to spend with my family, to see an amazing sky filled with stars, if I had no money tomorrow, it would have all be unbelievably worth it. I give them each a hug and tell them how glad I am that we are all here together. They smile back and reach for the marshmallows.

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