Where Do I Begin?

May 27, 2011 at 7:45 am (Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park, National Parks, Nature, Photography)

Cliff Palace partial view

For the past month I’ve wanted to post blog entries about my travels and my new job at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. But I’ve been so busy living life and getting situated that it just didn’t happen. So now I have a month’s worth of adventures to tell, and where do I begin?

Balcony House with kiva in foreground - tree denotes cliff edge!

For starters, Mesa Verde is an amazing place. We are the first national park dedicated to the “works of man” – the Ancestral Puebloans (formerly known as Anasazi.) I thought I had been here about 20 years ago, but frankly, I’m not sure I was. I would have certainly remembered the drive up here – 15 miles of winding, twisting, heart-stopping road high above the town of Cortez would have been unforgettable. My visit would have been before the destructive fires of 1995 and 2000 that destroyed half the park’s 52,000 acres. The pinyons and junipers then might have obscured the view that gives one the sense of being just below the ionosphere. But except for the memory of being in the pueblo dwellings, nothing seemed familiar. Perhaps I had visited another of the many Southwest Puebloan dwellings in my travels years ago? The mystery haunts me.

Distant Rain seen from Mesa Verde

Nevertheless, I am reveling in the many new experiences here. For one, there’s rain. In my six months at Big Bend National Park in Far West Texas, I saw about 3 drops of rain. No lie. There has been almost no rain there for eight months now, and wildfires in April raged on three sides of the park. (More in another blog.)

Snow in my backyard last week

Mountains (or tall mesas) make their own weather and snag whatever clouds pass by. In the desert it’s common to see virgas – falling rain that never reaches the ground. Even though we’re in arid country, and we get an average of 18 inches of precipitation a year, the rain doesn’t have as much chance to dry up before it hits our 8,000 foot elevation. The weather the last 2 weeks has been rather squally – wet snow, sun, sleet, sun, drizzle, sun, showers. Sun. Yesterday there was lightning, then a thin column of smoke was spotted on Chapin Mesa, where we live. It fizzled out, thankfully.

Feral horses and Far View Visitor Center where I work

So you can see the weather has been quite dramatic. From a photographer’s point of view, it’s awesome. Adjusting to the altitude was a challenge, even though I lived at 3800 feet in Big Bend. I was easily winded, and slept poorly the first few days. Nasal congestion, headaches, insomnia are part of mild altitude sickness. The oxygen is half as concentrated up here as at sea level, and at night the brain hasn’t yet reprogrammed itself to readjust breathing and heart rate to accommodate this. So I had sleep apnea – and kept waking up gasping for breath. My son, the mountaineer, assures me this is normal. Now I’m back to my regular sleep patterns, and can hike with my normal need for rest.

Squally clouds from Park Point

Although we are 20 miles from the nearest Mall-Wart and genuine civilization, cell phones won’t work here unless we park at one of two spots that have a direct line of sight to the cell towers 2000 feet below. I can even get 3G and 3 bars at Park Point, the highest point in the park at 8427feet. High-speed internet is not an option for mere mortals, either, here. So I got a landline and “high-speed dialup” which seems so Third World and I keep forgetting to disconnect so my phone can receive calls.

My new "adobe" abode

I share a home with a smart and sweet college girl who is a great cook and baker, and frankly what sold me on this job was that not only did I get my own bedroom (non-negotiable) but my own bathroom! It’s a real home, too, with lots of windows, a large kitchen/dining room, and big living room. My first quarters at Big Bend was an ancient trailer with shared bathroom.

La Plata range at sunset, viewed from Mesa Verde

After my remote post in Big Bend, the ability to get honest-to-goodness fresh, good-looking produce here is heavenly. Globe artichokes as big as salad bowls were a dollar each! (One fills a small crockpot and is ready in 4 hours on high.) There are pineapples! Strawberries! Fresh meat! Woo hoo! I’ll never take a supermarket for granted again. And we are within a day’s drive to numerous gorgeous parks and sights, which I intend to see on my days off – Arches, Canyonlands, Monument Valley, Chaco, Hovenweep… Before I fell in love with Maine 18 years ago I planned to move to Bisbee, Arizona. I have long loved the Southwest. I am so glad to be spending the summer here.

Visitors ascend a 32 foot ladder at Balcony House - yee haa!

Cindy McIntyre Images – Art Photography Gallery – order prints or license for publication

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4 Comments

  1. Ellie Libby said,

    Cindy, your photos are absolutely breathtaking!! Thank you so much for posting them. I would love to make it out there some day. Back home here in Maine, the weather has finally turned sunny and warm (at least for today). There are bluebirds nesting right outside my window and the combination of green grass, apple blossom, blue and pink forget-me-nots and bluebirds is just stunning- so welcome after a long white winter.
    Be well my friend and thanks for the blog post! Ellie

  2. Jackie Hlavinka said,

    Beautiful!

    • Bob Bourgeois said,

      just beautiful,Cindy!!!

      Love you,
      Uncle Bobby

  3. Julie Bourgeois Sykes said,

    Cindy,
    The pictures you are taking are breathtaking. You are so talented. I remember visiting Mesa Verde before kids around 1988 or so. Thank you for sharing your adventures with all of us!
    Your cousin,
    Julie

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