Taking the Kids to Mesa Verde National Park
Climbing up to the cave dwellings at Mesa Verde
There's no time to be nervous. The kids charge ahead up the 32-foot ladder, squeezing through a narrow, 12-foot tunnel, walking in toeholds carved into dusty sandstone.
Imagine if you could only get into your office or house via toeholds carved into rock. Imagine cooking by tossing a hot rock into a waterproofed basket filled with stew fixings and grinding corn with a rock. Imagine living with your family in small stone rooms. Imagine no TV or video games to entertain the kids -- just stories passed down from generation to generation.
We're all trying to get our heads around what family life must have been like for the Ancient Puebloan families who lived in these amazing cliff dwellings in southwest
"This is a different kind of national park," Ranger
Who says ancient history is boring? Our gang, which includes kids from kindergartners to college sophomores and grandparents, is fascinated to learn that this ancient culture continues today through modern-day Pueblo nations who return here several times a year for special ceremonies.
Local ranchers first discovered these cliff dwellings in the late 1800s and
Sadly, most of the 400,000 tourists who visit don't spend enough time here to really appreciate all this park has to offer -- a hands-on introduction to this ancient culture, hiking a petroglyph trail, the chance to teach kids about modern Native American life nearby and a first-rate restaurant, the
We'd been exploring southwestern
They stop in their tracks when they see a mama deer and her fawn race by into the woods. Incidentally, you can arrange for a campsite with a steel-framed tent and cots so you can have the camping experience without lugging all the gear. Rangers offer evening programs at the campground, as well as at
We're inadvertently a trendy group, I discover. Camping and RV vacations are growing in popularity. Aramark Parks and Destinations (www.aramarkparksanddestinations.com/), the concessionaire at this park, reports that bookings here at
Anyone who has ever tried to arrange a multi-generation trip knows it isn't always easy to satisfy everyone at the same time, but I'm pleased that Mesa Verde does the job. The Park Service has partnered with
Because there are 14 of us, we've arranged for a private tour with retired
There are also plenty of self-guided activities. You can drive the
National Parks Service educational specialist
Groves' Tip: Allow yourselves enough time. It can take an hour just to get from the park entrance to the visitor's center.
It's hot and no food is permitted in the cliff dwellings but amazingly, none of the kids complain. They are too interested in traveling back in time and imagining what their lives would have been like all those centuries ago. (No school! Parents by the time they are young teens! Building houses from mud and stone!)
We finish our day with dinner in the award-winning
I try to imagine special family dinners all those centuries ago. I bet the kids didn't want to sit still with the relatives then either.
We toast to a successful vacation day -- that rare occasion when everyone is still smiling at dinner.
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(c) 2009 EILEEN OGINTZ DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
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