Cliffs and Ladders - My Family Travels

It’s hot, dry, and there is a massive cliff no more than ten feet away from me. I lean over the railing, and I am completely bewildered as to why anyone would decide to live here. Ever. This is Mesa Verde, Colorado — late home of the Anasazi Indians.

Honorable Mention 2010 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship

I hear the tour guide yell our time, so I grab my camera and squeeze my way to the front of the group with my family. I’m stoked. We’re about to descend into one of the famous cliff dwellings: the Balcony House. It’s our first tour of the day, so I have no idea what I’m about to come up against.

The climb starts out easy with a few stairs and a short pathway. We stand around being blinded and burned by the sun while listening to the guide drone on for ten minutes. She explains why the Cliff Dwellers couldn’t cook beans and other such statistics. Continuing on, we reach a shiny metal staircase that looks considerably steeper than the last. Still, I’m not concerned until I see the ladder.

Looking past it, I catch my first glimpse of the dwelling. It’s the prize at the end of the climb. Not until I’m halfway up and my hands start shaking do I realize I’m afraid of ladders. My mom claims she’s done climbing after this. Yeah, right.

Inside, the Balcony House is beyond amazing. I can’t believe how well preserved the brick walls and walkways are. It’s like jumping into another time. Peering through windows, I start seeing how life was for these people. They scaled perilous cliffs daily, drank water out of springs, and built advanced housing with no modern tools. My life begins to seem sadly easy, and I realize that the world is losing its roots. We keep “moving forward” with our goal to become bigger and better, but what about taking a step back to learn about simpler? I don’t know a single person who knows how to make their own bricks, weave sandals out of human hair, or grow crops in the middle of a desert anymore.

My feet move on while my head stays in the past. I look ahead and see our guide point out a tunnel. For a moment I think she’s joking. This opening is maybe three feet in either direction, and I can’t see the light at the end. Everyone is crawling through without much trouble until my dad who is 6’4”. He bends down, pokes his head in, and his shoulders get stuck. No joke, he almost can’t fit! After a second of deliberation, he turns diagonally and wiggles through. Laughing, I crawl after him.

Really, it’s no wonder we barely fit. Plenty of people spend their time indoors popping M&M’s and playing video games. The Anasazi who lived here scrambled up nearly vertical cliffs as soon as they could walk, hunted for food, and sometimes starved. Instead of feeling sorry, I start to feel almost jealous. There’s something intensely appealing about living just to live, without all the pressures of society. I find myself wanting to sit on one of the balconies, stare into the unpolluted starry sky, and have no worries about finishing my homework.

We climb sideways along one last footpath in the cliff with only a chain separating us from a long drop. I think my mom is going to have a heart attack. One thing I know now: as jealous as I am of the simple life, I will never complain about waiting for an elevator ever again.

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