I’m unsure now of the chronology of it, but somewhere between Wall Drug, the Corn Palace, and the Four Corners, we visited Mesa Verde on one of the road trips of my childhood. I also remember stopping to visit a friend of my parents in Newport Beach, California. They had their own copy machine, which made me think they lived in terrific wealth, but they lived in a duplex, which made me wonder if they were poor. I didn’t realize then that their duplex, located right on the beach, right next to the Pacific, was worth a fortune. It wasn’t like the duplexes in Milwaukee.
At Wall Drug, my dad played the shootout, gun-drawing game. He won, I think. I’m pretty sure I was the one that insisted on seeing the Corn Palace because I was woken up at 2AM one evening as we drove past it. My parents spent a lot of the nights tag-teaming the driving effort while us kids slept in various crannies of the Chevy Astro (I fit in the center aisle at the time). We stopped at the Four Corners in daylight. Even then, I didn’t understand how the handful of tourists that were there could support the seemingly endless turquoise dealers and Navajo shopkeepers. Shanty-shopkeepers, actually. The Four Corners hasn’t changed much. Still just four states, all meeting in a corner. Maybe they’ll wedge in a fifth in the future and increase attendance 20%.
I don’t remember much of Mesa Verde, but I remember climbing the ladders and sitting in a Kiva (one of the submerged, spiritual, circular rooms). Halfway up one of the big ladders, I remember wondering if my parents were trying to kill me. Why were we in such a precarious situation? I’m not sure if I communicated this to them at the time. The Kiva was equally scary, because it was dark and filled with tourists. I left wanting a fort as cool as Mesa Verde. My tree house was never quite as cool.
It was interesting to see the park again 20 or so years later. Lisa and I tried to remember what tours we took as children, but we couldn’t quite place anything. The Kiva I sat in had to be the one at Spruce Tree House, the only place with a restored Kiva in the park. I’m not sure if the ladders I remember as a child were the ones to Balcony House (the tour features a 32′ ladder) or Cliff Palace (where there are a serious of ~10′ ladders). Children aren’t recommended on the Balcony House tour now, but I’m not sure how it was then. I remember the ladder feeling pretty damn big, but 32′? I’ll have to consult the photographic record.