Following in the Anasazi’s (Extreme Adventuring) Footsteps at Mesa Verde National Park (Part II)

Hadley’s third grade class camping trip to Mesa Verde National Park wasn’t just about play (see Part 1). We were there to learn and spending only a few days exploring the archaeological sites and hundreds of cliff dwellings was worth weeks in the classroom.

Spruce Tree House

And what a cool classroom it was.

We were given National Park Service handouts that were specific to school groups with great questions like, “Visit the spring area and describe how a deep spring functions.” “Count the number of kivas and describe two possible functions.”  After exploring the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum (be sure to watch the free, 15-minute film) we hiked the short, steep trail down to the Spruce Tree House.

“I feel like I’m gonna cry!” Haddie excitedly squealed.

She held it together but was thrilled to discover the third-largest Anasazi village in the park with 130 rooms and eight kivas (places of worship) that was constructed sometime between AD 1211 and 1278. Because of its protected location hugging the cliffs, it is well preserved and made for some fun explorations.

Grinding food

When I informed Haddie she could climb down into a kiva, she cut me off and hurriedly prepared donning her headlamp, gloves and compass. I didn’t have the heart to tell Adventure Girl she was simply climbing down a ladder and not doing some extreme backcountry mountaineering expedition.

Also, it helps when your headlamp doesn’t cover your eyes.

From there, it was onto the Balcony House for the highlight of our entire trip. This is a ranger-guided tour only (purchase $3 tickets for the one-hour tours at the Far View Visitor Center) and Ranger P.T. was informative, fun and engaging. This medium-size cliff dwelling had 45 rooms and two kivas but what made it so awesome was the adventure that went with it.

From the stellar views.

To the beautiful hike.

To crawling through a 12-foot tunnel, then climbing a series of toe-holds in a cleft of the cliff.

Precipitous cliff scaling

But the coolest feature of all: a 32-foot ladder. Well, cool unless you’re afraid of heights in which case, it was terrifying for a few people.

Of course, Adventure Girl had no problem. She could have even done it blindfolded blinded by her headlamp.

After scaling the ladder, we huddled together on the edge of a kiva. P.T. shared the rich history of the Ancient Puebloans and how they believe their ancestors emerged from the Third World through a sacred hole known as Sipapu to the Fourth World where we were sitting.

The lore wove its mythical spell and the children were entranced. As we looked out at the hundred-mile views of Mesa Verde’s wind-swept mesas and the azure desert sky in our outdoor classroom, anything seemed possible.

And I guess that’s the point of an experiential education.

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