Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mesa Verde road trip, Day 2: Balcony House

After touring Cliff Palace, we headed over to meet up with the Balcony House tour guide. The guide at Cliff Palace was an archaeologist and had a lot of interesting stuff to tell us, but this time the guide was a retired older man — nice, but not as knowledgeable, although I do have a lot of respect for him doing such a challenging job in his retirement!

Balcony House had me a little nervous because it's on the cliff face. I am a little afraid of heights, but I assumed I'd be okay... until the guy who sold us our tickets made a big deal about it (after we'd bought the tickets, of course). To get into Balcony House, you walk down stairs and follow a path that leads you underneath the cliff dwelling, then climb a 32-foot ladder to get to the cave. Would the ladder be as scary as it sounded?

Balcony House at Mesa Verde

Oh yes, it was.

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

I just looked straight ahead at the rungs and concentrated on gripping each one as tightly as I could. The ladders at Cliff Palace were less than half the height, and sure enough, when I got about halfway up is when I started really getting nervous. I started doubting my grip on the rungs, and there was a fleeting moment when I considered stopping and screaming for help until someone came and got me! But I decided staying there would probably be even scarier, and concentrated on reaching for the next rung... and the next... and the next, until I was at the top.

My knees were shaking by the time I reached the top, and it took about 10 minutes for that to stop, but it was worth it! Balcony House was fascinating. This is the reason for its name:

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

They don't know what these balconies were for, but since the rooms behind them were for food storage, most likely they were for laying food out to dry. They also could have been for traveling from one upper-story room to another, but if you look below you can see a row of holes for another, lower balcony, so that doesn't seem as likely.

Oh, and can we say "original timbers"? The wood holding up that balcony is over 700 years old!

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

I know it looks like all those little square openings are windows, but they are in fact doors — that's how the people got in and out of each room. They were small-ish — men were on average about 5'4" (my height), and women about 5 foot — but they still would have had to crawl in and out! I wonder what they did when coming out of a second- or third-story room — face plant? Because that's what I would do...

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

The wall I am standing by separates one side of the cliff dwelling from the other. No, we didn't crawl through the hole — ha — instead, we went around through the back of the cave, where the little spring that probably encouraged these people to build in that cave is still flowing, 700 years later!

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

The architecture of these buildings is simply amazing. They made use of all available space in the caves, and they had a sense of style too, judging by the towers and such. This tunnel is how you get out of balcony house — for some reason they bricked up most of the opening between the rocks, so that people would have to stoop or crawl to get in and out. The tunnel is about 12 feet long, but it does open up in the middle, enough that I could stand up. Why they did that we don't know; perhaps it was for privacy or defense, although it seems to me that where this dwelling was located, they already had plenty of both!

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

After we crawled through the tunnel, I had to conquer my fear of heights yet again:

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

That ladder is about 15 feet tall. The picture doesn't show it, since I was one of the first up it and no one was on the cliff face for you to see where the path goes, but after climbing the ladder you have to snake to the right, and then back to the left, following that fence length of chain held tenuously to the rock face with posts. You walk on the original toeholds carved into the rock more than 700 years ago — basically just small, shallow depressions for your feet. And you are totally exposed on the cliff face.

I crawled. After I discovered how insecure hanging onto a chain feels when you are clinging to the side of a cliff, I only hung onto the posts, going from post to post like an orangutan. In fact, I thought that's how everyone did it, until discussing it with my husband later — evidently he stood up and walked the whole way, looking around, while I was too scared to even look down!

And that wasn't all, either — I still had another 15-foot ladder to climb at the end of all that!

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

I survived it, though, and was pretty proud of myself for (more or less) overcoming my fears. The last picture was taken from the top, after we had climbed out, so I thought it was good to post as a victory picture! The view from inside the cave dwellings was similar, and though I didn't get too close to the edge to check it out, I can only imagine what it was like to live there with that view always in front of you!

In any case, I'm sure no one was afraid of heights!



At June 28, 2010 at 11:22 AM, Blogger Nuzzling Muzzles said...

These pictures are bringing back early memories. When I was a child we took a family vacation to Mesa Verde. My mother and I were too afraid to climb the ladders, so we stayed behind while the boys went up.

At June 29, 2010 at 9:02 AM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

NM, when you went, could you go into the cliff dwellings without a tour guide? They said it used to be that way, but people were wrecking things and taking souvenirs, so they had to limit it to guided tours only. I wasn't sure how long ago that was, though, and they didn't say.


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