Mesa Verde National Park:
Shadows of the Centuries
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Chapter 9:
A Grand Tradition

WORLD WAR II ENDED, and within five months Jesse Nusbaum had retired for the last time as superintendent of Mesa Verde. His tenure had covered seventeen event-filled years. No one else had held the position for so long a time; no one else had contributed so much to the development of the park or done so much to shape its image. Nusbaum's retirement broke the last active personal link with the early park days and signified a changing of the guard. New faces and new ideas would chart the years ahead.

In those last months, some old matters and some new ones crossed his desk. A request by NBC to make a film for a children's television program would have been totally unforeseen in 1921 when he was first appointed. Continuing discussions about roads and plans for the postwar era sounded ever so familiar to Nusbaum—only the years had changed. In the last weeks of his administration, who should come back to haunt him but the ghosts of Virginia McClurg and Lucy Peabody. Another attempt to change the name of Square Tower House to Peabody House threatened to open up the old wounds one more time. Nusbaum opposed the plan; he had walked this trail before and knew that the friends of other deceased individuals would "rightly claim comparable recognition." [1] The discussion went on for another year, but Nusbaum's position prevailed.

As he stepped aside, perhaps the most satisfying praise of his work came from eminent planner, landscape architect, and conservationist Frederick Law Olmsted. Nusbaum reported that Olmsted told him, after a late summer visit in 1945, that "Mesa Verde's development is among the finest and most appropriate in the National Park Service. He thought our archeological museum superb—probably the most 'illuminating' he has ever visited." [2] Olmsted expressed deep satisfaction with the landscape and with the architectural development as well—the latter was something Nusbaum could certainly take credit for, along with the C.C.C. boys.

Old problems hounded the new era. Superintendent Robert Rose's staff meetings in June and July 1946 dealt with heavy visitor traffic, equipment maintenance, and complaints about high fees charged by the Rio Grande Motor Way to transport visitors to and from Durango. One problem from the McClurg past continued to torment Mesa Verde—the Manitou cliff dwellings. A number of park visitors complained that they had been misled by falsehoods about Mesa Verde—for instance, that a trip to the ruins necessitated a horseback ride of many miles over poor trails with no guides. The Manitou Springs folks also boasted that the ruins "can't compare with theirs." The superintendent lamented that, despite many past attempts by Mesa Verde personnel to minimize or correct this situation, little had been accomplished. These fake ruins were still represented as genuine by the private owners: "Evidently their oral advertising continues as unscrupulous as ever. Of course, persons who subsequently come to Mesa Verde 'see the light.'"

Although that issue would not be resolved soon, the long-standing one involving water was finally overcome. The time required to move from satisfaction in July 1946 in just "holding their own" to finding a solution covered only four years. Prior to the war, a plan for piping water from the La Plata Mountains had been proposed, and surveys had been run. Money had actually been appropriated in 1942 for a thirty-mile pipeline, but the matter lay dormant until 1949 because of its non-defense nature and other curtailments. Construction started in 1949, and the pipeline was finished the next year, along with a million-gallon reservoir for storage. The new West Mancos Water Supply System made the old sheet-metal catchments, deep well, Spruce Tree spring pump, and other equipment obsolete. They were all removed, and the area was restored as nearly as possible to its natural condition. [3] For the first time since the early years of the century, the pump house, the pipe, and the other paraphernalia did not interfere with visitors appreciation of Spruce Tree House.

park visitors
With the return of peace, Americans took to the road. This photo of a 1947 tour indicates the size of the crowds that had come to the park. (Courtesy: Mesa Verde National Park)

A subject of concern at the staff meeting of July 22, 1946, was porcupine damage. The C.C.C. boys, of course, had tangled with the quilled creatures many times. After the war, however, procedures for dealing with park wildlife took on greater importance. Acceptable practice no longer allowed random hunting of porcupines. Population studies were carried out; even though the end result of trapping or killing might be similar to earlier actions, a conscious acknowledgment was made that now an ecological balance had to be struck between man and wildlife. As in the late 1940s and 1950s, wildlife management took on new meaning throughout the entire park system.

Wildlife within the national parks had always been important, but more so in Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain, for example, than in Mesa Verde. Predator control and overpopulation had never been a cause for concern in Mesa Verde, nor had visitors generally expected to see a variety of wildlife roaming within the park as part of their experience. It was mountain lions that put the subject into front-page headlines for Mesa Verde. Local ranchers charged that the predators were killing cattle and sheep, then using the park as a sanctuary to escape retribution. Hunters joined in the chorus of complaints, charging that the pesky cougars were also slaughtering deer. In the winter of 1947­1948, the topic moved up from the Cortez paper to Denver's Rocky Mountain News and from the superintendent to the regional director of the National Park Service. Rose and his staff, realizing that nothing would be gained by fighting their battles in the press, quietly endeavored to explain the park's policies to local groups and individuals. Most perplexing to all concerned was the fact that no reliable observations of mountain lions had been made in the park in the past two years, although a tourist claimed to have seen one the previous July.

The park staff concluded that mountain lions did not represent "an increasing menace to livestock and game," nor was Mesa Verde a breeding place for predators that intelligently used the park as a refuge, while raiding private herds of choice livestock. In the end, emotion died and the controversy faded away; rumors and histrionics had not been translated into long-run pressure.

Even before this uproar, wildlife matters had been garnering attention. Surveys and management policies came to be part of the park's program. The number of deer, ever increasing, created the biggest problem. They played havoc with attempts to raise a test field of corn, among other things. Porcupines continued to damage trees as they foraged for food. Other parks faced much greater problems than these and sheltered more varied animal populations than the deer, coyotes, skunks, porcupines, jack rabbits, and occasional mountain lions, badgers, elk, mountain sheep, and bobcats observed by visitors and park staff. [4]

In these postwar years, the park and nearby communities attained new heights of rapprochement. For example, the park staff built a float for Durango's Spanish Trails Fiesta parade in August 1946. Superintendent Rose complimented his personnel for the "splendid spirit" they exhibited in building the display, which depicted a prehistoric cliff dwelling. Rose had encouraged the construction because of the "goodwill [that] participation in this important San Juan Basin event creates for Mesa Verde." The feeling was mutual; with increased attendance (over 52,000 in 1947, 150,000 in 1954, and 200,000 four years later), the park had rapidly assumed a major role in the local economy.

Both Durango and Cortez barreled into a boom after the war, thanks to oil, natural gas, and uranium. Durango held on to its lead as a tourist center, because it still had better transportation connections, more varied tourist attractions, and a wider variety of accommodations, but both communities became more oriented toward tourists, each providing a strip of restaurants and motels to tempt the road-weary traveler. [5] The chambers of commerce leaders cheered tourism, and newspapers and radio stations promoted it.

A major reason that Mesa Verde visitation jumped (and why, paradoxically, Cortez lagged behind Durango) was the steady improvement of highways, except those to the west of Cortez. Even before the war's end, plans had been made to improve the Four Corners highway system. Cortez's Chamber of Commerce led the fight to improve the road to Gallup, with Nusbaum enthusiastically supporting its efforts. Proponents argued that a better road would make it easier to transport war-needed agricultural products south from Montezuma County to the railroad at Gallup, but it is obvious that they were looking forward to the postwar tourist trade with equal relish. Hopes for quick action hit a snag when protests mounted from Aztec, New Mexico, which found itself off the route and threatened with a loss of business. Aztec managed to delay the project for one year, but it was a doomed effort to preserve the status quo, just as the one by the liverymen of Mancos had been earlier. Neither could stop progress in order to protect local interests. By the end of 1946, the road between Cortez and Gallup had been realigned, resurfaced, and oiled; Cortez had acquired one needed artery to the outside. Without a pause, the Cortez chamber pushed to improve the roads into Utah and called for the surfacing and oiling of Wolf Creek Pass. One might question why Cortez would concern itself with Wolf Creek, which would aid its rival, Durango. Chamber officials optimistically believed that an improved Wolf Creek Pass would give Cortez fine roads to Mesa Verde, Yellowstone, and beyond. "We have been in the wilds long enough and are getting out," asserted the chamber's secretary. [6]

Progressive attitudes could not mask urban jealousies, which continued to infect all these communities. Durango vied with Cortez for tourist supremacy, as always, with challenges from Gallup, Shiprock, and Aztec, New Mexico, as well as any other town within a day's drive of Mesa Verde. Each was determined to attract its share, and then some, of the tourist business, and each wanted to be sure none of the others infringed upon its rights. With more at stake now, emotions intensified. It would be a battle to the end.

The Navajo Trail Association remained as the only regional effort of any consequence, and it continued to boost attractions along Highway 160. Superintendent Rose strongly backed the group's efforts, understanding that unity promised more than fractionalism: "We all appreciate your continued interest in all communities, including ours, located upon, and close to, our Navajo Trail." Regrettably, few local residents had that perspective; their individual interests outweighed regional benefits.

The rivalries of the towns became a moot point when highway construction was taken out of local and state hands as the federal government assumed the major responsibility. The development of the natural resources of the Four Corners region as part of war demands, and then for defense needs after 1945, gave the politically weak area a boost it never would have received otherwise. A number of defense highway acts had been passed during World War II, and these were broadened afterward during the Cold War and then the Korean War. As a result, the Department of Defense built more than eight hundred miles of roads in the Four Corners region during the early 1950s as part of the Atomic Energy Commission's program to provide access roads to mines and mills. These were not just gravel roads to some isolated spot where uranium had been discovered; they were, in some cases, major highways. Highway 160, which led to the park's entrance in the stretch between Durango and Cortez, found favor because it ran to the uranium smelter in Durango. In New Mexico, Highway 44 from Farmington to Albuquerque was improved for similar reasons. These kinds of roads and highways provided needed links to the national highway system and revolutionized the regional economy.

New plans continued to flow freely from Washington. Whereas U.S. Route 66 through Gallup had once been the focus of travel (and song), by the second term of the Eisenhower administration the federally funded interstate highway system had begun to steal some of the attention. [7] Denver—and Colorado as a whole—would benefit mightily from this program. Although none of the interstates came near to Mesa Verde, they brought the visitor to Colorado and within easy traveling distance of the park. The Four Corners finally had been joined by highway ties to the rest of the United States, except directly to the west. That possibility, too, was a subject of serious discussion, if not immediate action.

The adventuresome now flew where once they had ridden or driven. Only a generation before, Will Rogers had virtually pioneered private flights into southwestern Colorado; now commercial flights landed regularly at both Durango and Cortez. From there, a short car or bus trip brought Mesa Verde within easy reach. Most Americans, however, had not yet become enamored of air travel, so most of them continued to drive their cars over mountain and desert to reach the park. Railroad travel, no longer feasible, ceased. The unprofitable Rio Grande Southern had been abandoned and its tracks torn up by the parent Denver & Rio Grande Western. The D&RGW still ran trains into Durango, but they would not last much longer. Passenger traffic had dwindled to nothing, and freight barely produced enough revenue to justify itself.

Park administrators had a hard time matching the outside road improvements, money being their major stumbling block. W. Ward Yeager, acting superintendent before Rose, expressed what many of his predecessors had thought and what many of his successors would echo: "However it is not in error to say that road construction or major maintenance has continued to some degree from June 1911 to today, 36 years of struggle with unstable foundations and ever improving road standards." He might have gone on to add that more money had probably been spent on roads and road maintenance in Mesa Verde than on any other single item, including archaeology.

The major breakthrough in highway improvement came in 1957 with the elimination of what the Denver Post described as "the hair-raising 'knife-edge' road so notorious among tourists." The shorter and safer route to Chapin Mesa that replaced it included what was, at the time, the longest highway tunnel in the state. [8] That road project was claimed as part of the Mission 66 Program but actually preceded it. Technically, funds had been appropriated for the road before Congress launched Mission 66.

The Mission 66 Program was a dream come true for the National Park Service and benefited the whole country. The service's director, Conrad Wirth, described it as a park "renaissance." The National Park Service designed Mission 66 in response to funding shortages since the start of the war, increased visitation, and people coming by car who wanted new facilities adapted to their needs. The goal of Mission 66 was to overcome years of neglect and to revitalize deteriorating park facilities. Wirth pulled no punches when he warned readers in a Reader's Digest article (January 1955) that their visit to a park "is likely to be fraught with discomfort, disappointment, even danger. . . . It is not possible to provide essential services." [9] The program was to run for ten years and be completed by the fiftieth anniversary of the National Park Service in 1966.

horse riders
The horseback trip on the Spruce Canyon trail, long a popular attraction. (Courtesy: Mesa Verde National Park)

For Mesa Verde, Mission 66 would be one of two programs that would significantly change the park in the next decade, the other being the Wetherill Mesa Project. Mesa Verde had endured some difficult times. Summer days found the Spruce Tree House and museum area overcrowded, though never as much so there as in other, more popular, parks. The traditional plan of centralizing all activities on Chapin Mesa came under fire as "the greatest single threat to the integrity of the Park and to visitor enjoyment." The idea had been fine for an era of more limited and leisurely use, but it would not do for the 1950s. Nusbaum had been right twenty years before when he issued a warning on the subject. Mesa Verde, already a small park, shrank considerably when it was measured in terms of space suitable for visitor development. Something had to be done.

Plans for Mission 66 moved rapidly at Mesa Verde and reflected the concept as it was promoted throughout the whole park system. The visitor service program was to be updated to enhance the understanding and appreciation of the park's "unique attractions"; new archaeological areas were to be opened as exhibits. The lodge, cabins, and campground would be relocated, and adequate and appropriate staff and facilities would be provided for park management, protection, and maintenance. All these things were to be accomplished while doing "business as usual" each season; the integration would be "breath taking," if it could be accomplished smoothly. This ambitious program assumed that the end result would be the maximum constructive and wholesome use of Mesa Verde's prehistoric and scenic resources.

The program sounded good in theory, and it would eventually prove beneficial in practice, but it jumped off to a bad start. Colorado Senator Gordon Allott became ill-humored over what he charged was the so-called secrecy of planning, a "demonstration of arrogant bureaucratic power." He protested the plans to relocate the lodging and camping facilities and the one to convert Spruce Tree point into an archaeological center. "The individuals responsible for this cockeyed plan are the very ones who have kept the park from being properly developed," he bitterly complained. The senator was supported by some local people, including Ansel Hall, who thought the basic idea sound but the secrecy untenable. Hall particularly opposed moving the lodge to Navajo Hill and successfully fought that plan until his death in 1962. To him, "the public was better served at Spruce Tree."

"Cockeyed" the plan was not, no matter what one's opinion of the secrecy of the planning process might be. Oscar Carlson, superintendent from 1952 through 1958, endorsed it and waited for the necessary funds to arrive. He would be gone, as would the decade, before the program entered into full swing at Mesa Verde. The delay caused dismay, and Chester Thomas, the new superintendent in 1959, a tall, white-haired, pensive-appearing man, felt the need to encourage his staff in December 1959 after a trip to Washington. The project's director said reassuringly, "I urge all of you, especially those that have not received any substantial help as yet, to have faith in MISSION 66 and be optimistic. Optimism is the best cure I know of for hard knocks." [10] Mesa Verde personnel, therefore, awaited the 1960s with as much optimism as they could muster.

The renewal of major archaeological work, to be symbolized by the Wetherill Mesa Project, generated more excitement on the local level. Where once the great southwestern archaeologists—Fewkes, Kidder, Nusbaum, and Morris—had dug and collected, a long season of relative quiet had settled in. Mesa Verde's benchmark excavations and reports had been completed years before, and the park had quietly faded from its leading position as a source of ongoing prehistoric excavation. Unlike the majority of the Anasazi sites, Mesa Verde had a dual role to play in public visitation and in education and scholarly investigation. The former function was always paramount with the government, the latter an adjunct to be nourished when funds and staff became available.

Archaeological studies had never actually ended; they had just been refocused. A systematic survey of prehistoric resources that was started in the mid-1930s continued into the 1970s and was eventually to identify some four thousand sites within the park. After World War II, a series of excavations of mesa-top and talus-slope village sites was conducted to find out more about the pre-cliff-dweller era. Deric O'Bryan (after the Nusbaums' divorce, he took his mother's maiden name) returned to the scenes of his youth to excavate a series of mesa-top ruins.

In 1953, the University of Colorado launched the first of four yearly six-week summer sessions of field research, a program that coupled research with training students in field methods. Professor Robert Lister remembered it well: "We lived in the school house and old CCC foreman's barracks in the Utility area. Florence [his wife] cooked for 30 students (and a few seasonal rangers who couldn't stand their own cooking), and studied the pottery recovered." They cleared three ruins from 1953 through 1956. [11]

Now, in the 1950s, with new scientific methods and research techniques, it seemed appropriate that a full-scale intensive multi-disciplinary research program be launched. The goal would be to learn as much as possible about the inhabitants and their environment and to bring into focus as sharply as possible Mesa Verde life that had only been hinted at by earlier work. The ultimate benefit would accrue to the visiting public.

Archaeology alone would not be served. The overcrowding of popular cliff dwellings during the peak summer tourist season cried for relief. Chapin Mesa, less than 10 percent of the park's area, attracted almost all of the tourist traffic. This pressure would be alleviated if a series of ruins exhibits to rival the famous triumvirate of Spruce Tree, Cliff Palace, and Balcony House could be excavated, stabilized, and opened to view somewhere else in the park.

The Wetherill Mesa Project was designed with these two goals in mind—research and new exhibits. The selection of Wetherill Mesa on the park's western boundary came about naturally because of its outstanding cave sites and small pueblos on the mesa. It also could be tied nicely into the planned new visitor center on Navajo Hill, part of the Mission 66 Program. [12]

The National Park Service, joined by the National Geographic Society, was already planning the Wetherill Mesa Archaeological Project when this September 1958 tour of Mug House took place. (Courtesy: Mesa Verde National Park)

Mesa Verde benefited from more than Mission 66, because the National Geographic Society took an interest in the Wetherill Mesa Project. Four generous grants of fifty thousand dollars each, which began in 1958, allowed research not supported by federal funds, such as that in human osteology and in areas outside the park—for instance, the famous Nordenskiold collection.

The project got under way in the fall of 1958. The first season brought the excavation of Long House and the beginning of an archaeological sites survey. A visitor caught the excitement and sense of adventure:

Everywhere there was tense, purposeful activity. No one could be sure what the next spadeful of earth would uncover; what these debris-filled rooms would tell us of the fate of their vanished builders. . . . Meantime, the vast canyons will continue to echo the sounds of the 20th-century science at work as the past yields its secrets to modern techniques, and an almost lost way of life emerges from the shadows.

By the end of the second season, eight hundred sites had been found within ten square miles. Laboratory work began at the same time to study the results of the ongoing field work. [13] Not for over a generation had there been so much archaeological excitement at Mesa Verde. Never before had there been such a large-scale, well-funded, scientific project.

Amid the planning and projects, park season after park season rolled by. The popularity of Mesa Verde and the use of its facilities increased almost daily, it seemed. Visitors were coming now in larger numbers from all over the country, a change noticeable even in the last war year of 1945. Colorado visitor totals stayed far out in front, but California moved into the number two position, followed by New Mexico and Texas. When the 1952 season ended, California had cut sharply into Colorado's lead, followed by Texas, New Mexico, and Illinois. The nearby Four Corners states no longer dominated; better highways and higher incomes had put America's middle class into the car and on the road.

Tourists drove extra miles to see the park, encouraged by articles such as the one that appeared in the travel section of the New York Times, July 21 1950. The writer soothed the fears of timid travelers by assuring them that even those unaccustomed to driving in canyon country would be perfectly safe if they observed the 35 m.p.h. speed limit, took the caution signs literally, and kept their cars in gear on the downgrade! The article praised the museum, the "erudite" park rangers, the campfire talks, Spruce Tree Lodge, the horseback tours, and the Navajo dances. Something would surely appeal to every visitor. It went on to gush over the beautiful scenery of wildflowers, canyons, and piñon and juniper forests. Those motorists jaded by touring the Rockies would find that "after experiencing eye fatigue from gaping at peaks, gorges, waterfalls, glaciers and other natural spectacles, there is welcome mental stimulation in studying the ruins of Mesa Verde." The Kansas City Times (June 22, 1956), saluting Mesa Verde's golden anniversary, recommended that its readers pause in their Rocky Mountain tour for a chance to "study civilization of yesterday, and enjoy the modern overnight accommodations."

The thousands who came (the millionth visitor since the park's establishment arrived sometime in the early summer of 1953) found a park in which the Mesa Verde Company had steadily upgraded its concessions to include new cottages, the remodeling of the lodge, better buses for expanded sightseeing, and even a Kids Korral for child care. Ansel Hall strongly believed "the visitor should have a quality experience in the park." As much as possible, he energetically wove together the park's interpretive program with his concession business. This alliance, Hall believed, would strengthen the visitor's experience. He also promoted Mesa Verde with enthusiasm. June Hall remembered one method that her husband used to do that:

park visitors
Mesa Verde's popularity had produced a crush of visitors by the mid-1950s. Spruce Tree House could hardly handle any more people. (Courtesy: Mesa Verde National Park)

He wrote little information folders, all the advance information people needed. He would go around and distribute those things within a radius of a hundred to a hundred and fifty miles, so that people as they came in this direction would find these circulars in motels, service stations and places like that. This was one of the best ways of publicity.

Hall believed that the concessionaire should promote the park, just as any other businessman would promote his business.

In the mid-1950s, the company also developed the Point Lookout Lodge complex outside the entrance as an alternative to staying in the park. After the war years, when they had gone into the red by almost $33,000, the Halls had finally turned a profit in the early 1950s. But not everything came up roses for them. Negotiations for a new concession contract dragged on for years, probably explaining in part why Ansel became so upset over the alleged secrecy of Mission 66. Causing more anger was the government's plan to cancel out the company's long-range improvement plans. Further hassles ensued when the company had to approach the National Park Service to ask for new rates in the face of steadily increasing expenses. June Hall presented their side of the story: "We were in sort of an adversary position. They were always holding us down in our rates, trying to make us comparable to the local prices, while our customers didn't come from there." She was confident that their customers would accept higher rates. [14]

That assumption was questionable. There were always complaints from disgruntled visitors about high costs, lack of accommodation, and other irritants. Some of them went directly to the company; others took their complaints to the National Park Service, where they sometimes became a matter of discussion at staff meetings. [15] The staff also discussed the pros and cons of year-round operation (no decision was reached) and the closing of the Mesa Verde school. It was decided not to abandon the school, because parents wanted to keep their elementary-age children near home to avoid a long bus ride, during which one ranger/driver remembered that his riders "could think of ways to cut up." The superintendent recommended in 1949 that his staff members work to improve their writing skills and was pleased when they got better. Jean Pinkley, the outstanding woman ranger/park archaeologist of her era and a prominent southwestern archaeologist in her own right, planned to improve upon her writing by researching and then writing a history of Mesa Verde. For unspecified reasons, and "much to my regret" she dropped the project. [16]

Ansel Hall and Amy Andrews greet Frontier Airline hostesses at the Spruce Tree Lodge in 1953. Frontier's advertising helped to promote Mesa Verde, as the poster indicates. (Courtesy: William Winkler)

Vandalism continued to plague the park, even after years of public education to encourage preservation of the archaeological record. The exciting possibility of finding an ancient artifact proved too tempting for some Americans, including a Dayton, Ohio, teacher, his wife, and their children, who were caught digging. The father attempted to justify their actions by pleading that they had dug only in a cave and had not disturbed anything that park rangers would not have disturbed anyway! That excuse failed to prevent their being fined twenty-five dollars. [17] If teachers, of all people, could not follow the rules, it is understandable that this problem persisted from 1906 through generations of visitors.

Life for the staff had not changed much over the years. Jeannie Lee Jim, a Navajo whose father worked at restoring ruins and a "lot on the Knife Edge road," remembered, "It was a lot of fun growing up at Mesa Verde." She went to the dances to watch her father and his friends; sometimes the dancers collected as much as fifty dollars. For these Navajos, life at Mesa Verde was better than it would have been back on the usually economically depressed reservation.

The Mesa Verde "family" included everyone from the seasonals to the superintendent. They lived and worked together within the confines of the park. This togetherness occasionally bred problems; as one person recalled, "you lived too close to each other in the winter time in my view in retrospect." Putting personal conflicts aside, the employees represented the best that the National Park Service had to offer, none more so than the often crusty, "long, tall" Jean Pinkley, with her dedication and love for Mesa Verde. She was the kind of longtime park service employee who just "gave and gave and gave." Like Don Watson and all those dedicated people who presented campfire programs on their days off, she worked literally night and day.

She used to collect wildflowers [again, on her day off] for the Natural History museum, where she labeled them. She collected wildflower seeds and, after the new road was put in at the fire tower lookout, she personally and tenderly scattered and planted and urged all the wildflower seeds in that disturbed area.

She loved being a ranger. When it was her turn to do campfire, I would never miss it. . . . She had a way of telling campfire circle stories that were just wonderful.

Occasionally, the younger members of the "family" tested the patience of their more reserved elders. In 1946, their youthful exuberance led them to hold an evening party in one of the Spruce Tree House kivas. Everything was going according to plan as they sat down to "play cards and listen to Glen Miller music." A broken tree branch with a coat draped over it covered the kiva entrance to prevent a tell-tale glow of light from giving the youngsters' presence away. To double security, a lookout had been posted near the trail to warn of anyone's approach. Unfortunately for the group's best-laid plans, the lookout focused more attention on his date than on shadows moving down the trail. A ranger detachment, led by Jean Pinkley, slipped past the watch and surprised the shocked gathering.

The stern words, "It is my duty to advise you that you are under arrest," were the first ones the mischievous youths heard. They trooped out, eventually to be confronted by mortified parents and to face a solemn appearance before a federal magistrate. Each participant was fined five dollars. In later, more relaxed, times the survivors dubbed themselves the "Kiva Bridge Club." [18]

All work, with no relaxation, did not characterize all of the employees' waking hours. There was the lodge, the meeting place for park service personnel ("their home away from home"), and the little Sipapu Bar, where they had "a lot of fellowship." The schoolhouse, following that old frontier tradition, served as the center of family parties and programs.

Ranger Kenny Ross remembered the shopping trips to Cortez, Mancos, and Durango, especially the winter weekends when Mesa Verde people would gather at the Strater Hotel in Durango and "have a lot of fun, sometimes almost destructive fun." Summer left little time for anything other than work; winter at the park brought homemade amusements, including parties, barbecues, and "lots of beer." [19] For these people, Mesa Verde was not simply a national park to visit and then leave for yet another place—it was a home and a livelihood—and perhaps a life-long love affair with the canyons and mesas. They gave it substance and flavor in the grand tradition of the Wetherills, Kelly, and Nusbaum.


Mesa Verde National Park: Shadows of the Centuries
©2002, University Press of Colorado
All rights reserved by the University Press of Colorado

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Copyright © 2002 Duane A. Smith, published by the University Press of Colorado. Material from this edition may not be reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the author and the University Press of Colorado.