Tag Archives: mesa verde

If You Must Get Out On Memorial Day Weekend ….

Looking through the window at Balcony House, Mesa Verde National Park

If you really must get out this Memorial Day weekend, then it’s worth a check with the National Parks Traveler to see which parks are open and how much of those parks are accessible. Mesa Verde National Park will open this Sunday, but the cliff dwellings will not be accessible. That said, other parts of the park will be accessible.

To find out what national park units are open, click on the image above.

I’ve only visited Mesa Verde once, but it was a cool trip and I did lots of stuff while there. I took most of the guided cliff dwelling tours (like the one pictured here, of Balcony House) and a guided backcountry tour to Mug House (also very cool) as well as a twilight tour of Cliff Palace. I checked out the ruins on the ground, too, in addition to those above the ground. The scenery is stark and beautiful. The sunrises are gorgeous – especially at Park Point Overlook. I stayed at Far View Lodge, which was very nice … except for the part about finding a black widow spider on the bathroom wall – that shook me a little bit. All in all, it was a great trip and one I recommend if you are interested in learning about the culture and architecture of an ancient people.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

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Mesa Verde National Park Expands Online Tour Ticket Reservations

Last Light On Cliff Palace

Twilight at Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado

How many of you have visited Mesa Verde National Park? Have you taken a ranger-guided tour to one of the cliff dwellings like Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or Long House? It was pretty cool, right? Have you taken a guided backcountry tour to an off-the-radar dwelling like Mug House? You used to be able to only purchase tickets for these tours once you arrived in the park, but beginning March 9, you’ll be able to purchase tickets to these tours online! If you’ve never been, you really should go. This is one of those national parks that focuses on, and protects, the architectural wonders and culture (as much of it as they know, anyway) of the Ancestral Puebloans, who dwelt in this semi-arid network of mesas and canyons for 700 years in 600 cliff dwellings as well as other ruins on the ground.

To get further information on how to purchase tour tickets, click on the Cliff Palace image above.

I went way back in 2012 and wouldn’t mind returning again. You know, the first time you visit a national park or monument or seashore or historic site, it’s always sort of a reconnaissance trip to familiarize yourself with the lay of the land. I think, if I went again, I’d notice other things that I probably missed the first time.

 

Long House

The approach to Long House

Balcony House Single Image HDR

Balcony House on a clear, sunny day, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado

Mug House

A backcountry tour to Mug House, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

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Mug House

C2C6808_Mug House

“The most important thing we humans can do is to respect all life. The Hopi believe that to not do this is something akin to a mental illness”.

I think things happen for a reason, no matter how incomprehensible they may be at first glance. I think I was steered away from the Square Tower House tour toward the Mug House tour so I could hear the words of the Adopted Daughter of the Bear Clan and experience the kindness of the people around me.

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Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, offers ranger-led, backcountry hikes to Square Tower House and Mug House during certain times of the year, with a limited number of reservations. I really wanted to reserve a spot for the Square Tower House hike because I think it’s a beautiful dwelling (as seen from the overlook), but the tour was offered aftermy stay in Colorado ended. So, I opted for the Mug House tour instead, having not a clue as to that particular cliff dwelling since there is no view area to these ruins.

The Mug House tour begins at the Wetherill Mesa ranger kiosk and lasts from 10AM to about noon for a 3-mile roundtrip hike on a “goat trail” over uneven terrain with some scrambles up and down rocks and boulders.

Our guide was Ranger Denice, an adopted daughter of the Hopi Bear Clan (which I thought was totally cool). Her (and her adopted families’) perspective on this hike offered thoughtful views that I actually remember (as opposed to other things which tended to go in one ear, swish around gray matter in my skull, and then exit by way of the other ear).

Along the route, Ranger Denice pointed out various plants that the Ancestral Puebloans would have used for food, building materials, medicine, basketwork, and ceremonies.

C2C6758_Talking About The Yucca Plant

She also stopped and pointed in the distance to the cliff dwelling Lancaster House, which survived a fire that had swept across the Wetherill Mesa area during the not-so-distant past.

B5A6174_Lancaster House

As you readers know by now, if you’ve been following my blogs, I’m not a huge people person; I prefer being as far away from crowds as I possibly can. I have discovered, though, when I am away from work and back out in the West (which doesn’t happen often enough for me), I am relaxed, happy, and more open to people. With that in mind, I write that the people who were on the Mug House Tour with me were friendly and so very helpful when it came to making sure a backpack-laden, slightly overweight, definitely out-of-shape (but eager and energetic) middle-aged lady didn’t fall and hurt herself during those scrambles up and down the boulders (I’m not the most sure-footed of creatures) and I definitely learned a lesson: my subsequent day hikes consisted of NO backpack – whatever I needed (snacks, water, memory cards, spare batteries) was stuffed into the pockets of my Domke photographer’s vest.

C2C6781_On the Hike

C2C6772_Looking Across The Valley

Our backcountry hike was a “three fer one”: in addition to visiting the main attraction, we also visited two other interesting little sites.

At first glance, all we really noticed were the soot marks on the rock and this red squiggly line we all assumed were mountains….until our eyes grew accustomed to the shade and we noticed one end of the squiggly line had a sort of face/eye. Ranger Denice also pointed out another, fainter red squiggly line facing the larger red squiggly line: two snakes. Water symbols.

C2C6798_Looking At The Snakes

B5A6186_The Snake

The next small site visited remains essentially unrestored. They know a kiva is beneath the soil, and portions of some rooms have been excavated. For the most part, this site is left as is.

C2C6804_Second Site

Mug House, itself, is a quiet place with a beautiful view (actually, all cliff dwellings have magnificent views). One feels the spirits of the past dwellers swirling around them. It’s also the place where three beautifully-decorated pottery mugs were discovered, tied together at the handles. Hence the cliff dwelling name.

C2C6780-2_Mug House Overview

C2C6764_Valley View

Valley view from the cliff dwelling

C2C6806_Adopted Daughter of Bear Clan

Adopted Daughter of The Bear Clan

C2C6811_Mug House Ruins

Part of the cliff dwelling

C2C6837_Keyhole Kiva

A “Mesa Verde”-style keyhole kiva

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If you visit the park and have the opportunity to take this tour, by all means do so.  And hopefully you will be led to this silent place by the Adopted Daughter of the Bear Clan.

B5A6183_Rangers Hat

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A Taste of Things To Come–Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

C2C5560_Becky At Mesa Verde NP

I once wrote that I would try to post every weekend (or closely thereafter); I’d read that to keep and increase readership, one needs to blog and blog (relatively) often.

I’m on vacation right now (Aug 24 – Sep 2, 2012).  I packed up one of my Canon 5D Mk II bodies, two rented Canon 5D Mark III bodies, my 70-200mm + 1.4x teleconverter, my 16-35mm lens, 40mm pancake lens, and 24-105mm lens (in addition to the circular polarizers and Lee 4×6 .9  soft  graduated ND filters) for this trip.  I arrived in Denver, then flew to Durango, Colorado and am now staying at the Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde National Park.  Now you know which cameras and lenses I used to take all of the photos you will see in my future posts.  FYI, I’ve used my 16-35mm more than any of the other lenses so far, with the 24-105mm coming in second.

Since I’m saving my photos (so far I’ve taken over 2000 which I need to cull through and edit) and commentary for the numerous travelogues I will post upon my return to Texas, I won’t go into a whole lot of detail here, except to talk about a few things.

As a fellow blogger put it, water is the most important thing to mankind.  It’s one of those required staples, without which one cannot live for maybe more than 3 days.  Water creates the landscape, nourishes plant- and animal-life, and in many cultures living in arid lands, is worshipped.  The longer I stay in Mesa Verde NP, and the more cliff dwelling tours I take in the hot sun and dry air, the more I understand the importance of water. Yes, I’ve heard others go on about the importance of water, but when I get my water from a faucet with a few twists of the tap, I guess I’ve just taken it’s availability for granted.  Out here, I don’t.

Something else that I am trying to accomplish is to become more observant during my hikes.  Oh, I look around a lot in search of a grand photo op, but there are times when I’m just putting one foot in front of the other to get from Point A to Point B.  With this trip, I’m actually looking, observing, listening, and smelling.  I’m taking my eye away from the viewfinder to just soak in the atmosphere around me.

I can smell the Utah  juniper and pinyon pine.  I can smell (and see) the brilliant yellow rabbitbrush that covers the land here.  I can hear the songbirds hidden in the Utah serviceberry, I can hear the night wind whipping around my lodge room balcony.  I stand on said balcony (with a Buffalo Gold Ale in my hand) and watch the clouds rolling across the mesas, casting blobby shadows hither and yonder.

I did not observe the little grass snake crossing my path as I tiredly trudged back to my car, until I looked down, saw it, and jumped sky high, scaring myself and the poor little snake.  I did observe the black widow spider crawling up my lodge room’s bathroom wall (no, I did not take a photo of it – I hate those things – snakes and tarantulas I can deal with, but not black widow spiders).

I am also reflecting more on each thing I learn from the rangers guiding the tours I have taken (Ranger Pete, Ranger Pamela, “Willa Cather” – aka Ranger Paula, Ranger Denice.  My backcountry tour to Mug House was lead by a ranger who is an adopted daughter of the Hopi Bear Clan.  Of the many interesting and thoughtful things she said, the one that really stands out is that people must respect the land, and respect all life, for everything has a spirit.  To disrespect life is akin to a mental illness.

An interesting thing to reflect upon, since I don’t much care for people, although I notice that I am much  more loquacious during this trip, because I am happy.  When I am in my element, then I am happy and I actually like people more (most of the time, anyway, until some moron tries to tailgate me because he wants to drive faster than the posted speed limit within the park).

So, stay tuned for more thoughts, travel tidbits, and of course, lots of photos.  I’ve got 2 more days here in Mesa Verde NP before heading up to Arches NP in Utah.

C2C5747_The Road To Cliff Palace

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Anticipation (AKA Packing For My August Photo Trip)

Vacation Map

Is it too early to start talking about an upcoming trip?  Will I jinx things?  I hope not, because I’m going to write about it anyway.  You see, I live(and work) for my vacations.

Yes, I am packing already for a trip I won’t be taking for another 2-1/2 months. Planning for a trip is part of the fun for me. Besides, it’s helpful for me to pack early because then I have plenty of time to really think, then unpack, then repack.  No last-minute packing for me, by golly!   My Type A personality likes to get it out of the way early.

I’ve noticed that many photographers are curious as to what  camera-lens setups their peers take with them when traveling.  I know I’m always curious as to what other photographers take with them when traveling.  So I am going out on a limb here and will assume you are curious as to what *I* pack for such a trip.

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Allow me to digress for just a moment.

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I receive 4 weeks of vacation a year – a drop in the bucket, I know, but I’ll take what I can get. Most of my vacations are spent flying to some favorite place out West, renting a car, and staying in a hotel/lodge/resort as a base.  I’m so over tent camping (my rheumatoid arthritis dictated that); I like my “beauty sleep”, a desk onto which I can place my laptop, and a nearby bathroom.  Sure, I could do that with a SUV-trailer combo, but I don’t own either and don’t want either at this point in time. So, I sing the praises of hotels and lodges.

I usually visit some place I’ve visited previously and really enjoy, but I also try to make at least one trip somewhere to which I have never been. This 2012, I am traveling the last week of August to a place I’ve only briefly been (Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado).

0952_Square Tower

I’m also going to visit a place to which I have never been (Arches National Park, Utah).  It’s going to be hot and dry at both places (for the most part), and I plan on hiking from sunrise to sunset, since I’ll be stationed 5 days at Mesa Verde and 3 days at Arches before heading to Durango CO for a day via the scenic Million Dollar Highway.

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Ok, back to the subject of this post.

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I always take 3 bags for domestic trips, one of which I check in at the counter.

1870_Three Cases Old

The checked bag is the largest one holding all of my clothing, extra shoes, toiletries, underwear, tripod, some food (Clif Bars, those Land O Lakes Mini Moos  half & half packets, trail mix), water bottles, hair dryer, assorted cords, and – oh yes – my little 4-cup coffee maker along with a bag of good coffee. It’s a Samsonite Brght Lite polycarbonate hard-side, hot pink 28-inch spinner behemoth that’s a little awkward to lug around but is still a fantastic piece of luggage. I deliberately chose the hot pink color to better identify it on the baggage carousel….besides, who in their right mind (other than the owner) would want to be seen walking around with such a garish suitcase?

The two carry-on bags consist of

1. My laptop case which I purchased at my employer’s company store, packed with my 15-inch laptop, mouse, portable hard drives, cords, memory card reader, and various documentation like my boarding pass and confirmations for my hotel(s), rental car, any tours, etc.; and

2. My Think Tank Airport Antidote 2.0 camera backpack, which is usually stuffed with two or three camera bodies, my 70-200mm lens, 16-35mm lens, 24-105mm lens, and 50mm f1.2 lens (sometimes I even lug my 85mm f1.2 lens around). This case is wonderful and is sized to fit in the overhead bins of both domestic and international airlines (I can tell you this is true from personal experience). I’m a short person (5’2”) and this pack doesn’t overwhelm me sizewise or weightwise (well, the weight thing is a challenge, since I usually overpack). Into the Airport Antidote – in addition to the cameras and lenses – I also pack 35 CF cards (that’s right – I said 35 cards of 4GB and 8 GB size), 5 extra camera batteries, two Lee 4×6 .9 graduated ND filters (which I hand hold flush against the camera lens), my slim-mount circular polarizer filters, slim-mount UV filters, a couple of round grad ND filters (77mm and 82mm), a 6-stop 77mm ND filter, and a backup memory card file storage device (Sanho Hyperdrive).

1874_Think Tank Open

I also pack my lens hoods, which I may or may not use if I am taking photos requiring the use of either the circular polarizers or the Lee graduated ND filters. The Airport Antidote allows the packing of a 15-inch laptop as well, which I did for my international trip.  For domestic travel, however, I prefer to transport my laptop in a separate laptop case.

Yes, it is quite the load to lug around, but I use practically everything I take with me on a trip…including the coffee maker.

Oh, and I always wear my Domke PhoTogs photographer’s vest. I have one in black, and another in khaki.  I LOVE all the pockets into which I can stuff my wallet, iPhone, memory cards, extra camera batteries, extra pair of glasses, business cards, pen, etc. And it looks good on me, too (don’t you think?).

D2C0250_RebeccaLatsonPhotography

For this upcoming trip, however, I’m changing things around. I’m not going to take the Pink Monster, nor will I take the Think Tank backpack. Instead, I’ve been packing (I began a couple of weeks ago packing/unpacking/repacking) an IT Luggage Shiny Large Dots 24-inch hard-side black roller with large white and pink polka dots. When I purchased that little case, I felt pretty sure it would be an almost one-of-a-kind-easy-to-spot-at-baggage claim kind of case much like my hot-pink suitcase.  Nope. When I flew to Seattle back in April, I saw a young lady retrieving the exact same case. So I’ve applied strips of neon-green duct tape to my case. That ought to set it apart.

1878_IT Roller Case

Believe it or not, I’ve packed almost as much into that little case as I ever did in the Pink Monster! This includes the addition of three large water bottles for my hikes, an extra pair of hiking boots, hat, a pair of Keen sandals, and my Induro Carbon 8X CT213 tripod with an Induro BHD2 ballhead (I had to unscrew the tripod head and place it elsewhere within the case). It excludes the coffee maker (my hotel rooms all have coffee makers, so I’ll still take my bag of coffee, the little #2 filters, and my packets of half & half, ‘cause I gotta have my coffee). I’m beginning to realize that I don’t need as much suitcase space as I thought I needed for trips lasting up to 2 weeks. The weather will be relatively consistent (i.e. hot and dry), but I’ll still pack a raincoat and a couple of lightweight fleece tops, since I expect the mornings and evenings to be quite cool.

Below is a shot of my new case, partially packed (the tripod is hidden underneath other stuff, and I still have a few more items to pack):

1880_IT bag open

Regarding the packing of the camera equipment, I’m taking a camera backpack that I originally was going to stuff into the 28-inch suitcase. As I was going to sleep one night, the light bulb went on and I realized there was no way in hell I could pack that particular camera backpack in the smaller case and also take the Think Tank pack. This required some revisions of what I really wanted to take with me for this trip, in the way of lenses.

I’m still taking the three camera bodies (two Canon 5D Mark II bodies and a rented Canon 5D Mark III because I can’t afford to purchase one outright for myself…yet); I am a firm believer in camera redundancy. I like to know that if one (or both) of my own camera bodies break down, I’ve got that extra one. I am paring down the lenses I take. I’ll just have the 16-35mm, the 70-200mm, and I’ve rented a 14mm fisheye (I want to get in as much as I can of the cliff dwellings in Colorado and Delicate Arch in Utah). I may take the itty bitty 40mm pancakeCanon lens I’ve pre-ordered so I can test it out and then blog about it (provided I receive that lens in time – according to my order history, the processing is still “pending”). And of course, I’ll still take all of my filters and lens hoods and memory cards and such.

What backpack am I taking, then? It’s the Lowepro Fastpack 350.

1902_Lowepro Front

1901_Lowepro Back

Compared to my Think Tank pack:

1883_Lowepro Vs Think Tank

It’s awesome! I’ve used it a couple of times for my Brazos Bend State Park and Brazoria NWR photo ops. This pack is lightweight (well, it feels that way compared to my Think Tank, when packed) and  nicely padded.  Retrieving a camera/lens is relatively convenient – you don’t even have to take the backpack off in order to access things, although I still find I need to take the pack off to get to my gear – I haven’t quite gotten the method of  swinging-the-pack-around-on-one-shoulder-while-still-standing ironed out just yet. The top portion of the pack can be used for items like memory cards, filters, snack/lunch, extra water bottle, and light jacket or fleece pullover; that’s the main reason for wanting to take this pack.  I’ll be hiking in some really hot areas, where the temps get into the triple digits.  I need to be able to carry more than one large water bottle, plus some snacks.  The Think Tank doesn’t allow for that, but this Lowepro Fastpack 350 sure does.  There is even a padded, zippered slot where I could easily pack my 15-inch HP laptop, if I wanted (and yes, my laptop doesfit in there).  One side of the pack also has a mesh pocket for a large-sized water bottle.  The only caveat another photographer might notice is that there is nothing handy for attaching a folded tripod to the pack.  Not an issue with me, since I use my tripod as a hiking staff to help me maneuver around.

1886_Lowepro Bottom Open

1889_Lowepro Open

Two-and-a-half more months to go, and I am sooooo ready for this trip Open-mouthed smile

1923_Ready to Go

What do you pack for your photo trips?

*Note:  with the exception of the map image, and the Mesa Verde cliff dwelling photo, the rest of the photos in this post were taken with a Canon Powershot G11.

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