SocraticGadfly: Mesa Verde — one last trip?

December 07, 2018

Mesa Verde — one last trip?

Mesa Verde of today illustrates well several of the issues that face today's National Park Service as a whole, and individual parks, including some that Southwestern parks face in an era of advances in science and in worries about climate change effects.

From the area of the fire tower on Mesa Verde, looking north-northwest.
Nearly a decade ago, I almost swore that the visit I made then to Mesa Verde might be my last ever.

That was about a year or two after the National Park Service and park staff required people wanting to see Cliff Palace and, I believe, Balcony House to queue up for guided tours. No more individual trail walking.

I understood why. It was a mix of the site being loved to death with carelessness as part of that, along with theft and probably vandalism (name-graffiti) too. Didn't mean I had to like what this made the park, as well as the obscene criminality or the carelessness from casual visitors. I did the tours, or at least Cliff Palace, because it was the first time in many years, and only the second time as an adult, I'd visited. But I didn't like it.

And I almost swore it off.

But not quite.

And, I decided to spend part of a day there while doing some down time at my brother's in Farmington.

Statue at new visitor center
I got there and saw a nice artistic statue outside a nice spiffy new visitor center.

And found out that you now have to buy tickets for tours to those two ruins at that spiffy new visitor center. Nope.

I get the idea there, too. If theft and vandalism are still happening, you have a record of who visited, with contact and ID information. But, I don't need to pay, or I shouldn't need to pay. In any case, I was short on time and had other parts of the park to visit. (I still have yet to visit Wetherill Mesa, at least as an adult. Maybe I will and maybe I won't make another trip; if I do, it likely will be just to there.)

Anyway, the theft and vandalism are happening. The trail to Spruce Tree House, closed because of rockfall damage, was "posted" to be under video surveillance. (The trail remained closed as of the time I wrote this, so one can still only see at a distance.)

Megalithic House kiva vandalism. (All the shiny silver
in the sipapu and near it are dimes or other coins.)
And, at a partially excavated site, the Megalithic House site, people had thrown money inside the kiva. That, too, is vandalism, folks.

So, with the possible exception of taking the separate road to Wetherill Mesa, consider this to indeed be swearing off further Mesa Verde visits. (That said, the Long House site there also requires a ticket now.)

It's also "interesting" that Mesa Verde has gone to "frequency pricing." A year ago, the Park Service proposed peak-season fees at 17 other sites, but they're already in place at Mesa Verde. That said, on-season and off-season only differ by $5 at Mesa Verde, not $30 or more.

Meanwhile, parts of Mesa Verde feel frozen in time. Not frozen in time of 700 years ago, but of 70-100 years ago.

Mesa Verde's old, original Chapin Mesa Visitor Center is a repository for
Anasazi artifacts, but is the information presented along with them up to date?
Most the dioramas at the Chapin Mesa Visitor Center were made in the Depression, by CCC laborers. I'm not looking for Mark Zuckerberg to offer Oculus Rift virtual reality. However, there's been a lot of Anasazi study in the past 70-80 years (setting aside whether any information on any of the dioramas was starting to go out of date even at the time they were created). Tastefully more modern displays with up-to-date information would be welcomed.

With appropriate money, a park staffer to lead guided tours through the museum and updated exhibits once or twice a day would also be welcomed by many, I would think.

That's if money for that becomes available from new and additional funding for the Park Service in general. Sorry, Democrats, including a few alleged progressives who actually aren't, but using part of BLM's oil and gas fee money to fund the Park Service is NOT the answer and I really don't know why you think, or ever thought, it is. See below for more on that.

And, the dioramas would take a definite back seat to more urgent needs, even more urgent than reopening the trail to Spruce Tree House.

Out of service on Chapin Mesa
Oh, like fixing a fire hydrant that would be the only salvation for those visitor center dioramas should a fire sweep through the heart of the park. Given this summer's wildfire season, which was bad enough in the Four Corners before California knocked it off the front page, this is simply inexcusable. Per the cutline, this is right next door to the Chapin Mesa Visitors Center and buildings complex.

We know that climate change is only going to make the Southwest hotter and drier. Fire hydrants like this need to be fixed immediately. Not tomorrow or six months later, but immediately.

I don't know if that's the only one broken. Probably not. And, I don't know why it's out of order. Old water lines would be one guess, though. In other words, the out-of-service hydrant is a symbol and stand-in for larger infrastructure problems at the park, and the park, in a mountain-desert transition area, is at a juncture of climate change environments.

(Update: I have been informed [which I hoped] that this is not the only hydrant on the mesa. I will be getting further information on the status of it, others, and the why, probably in a week or so.)

And, that is not all that needs to be fixed, either.

NPS facility or private inholding remnant? Either way, it's ugly and unsafe.
Although Mesa Verde does not have the degree of problems of some national parks, it does have, or had, two private inholdings. (I don't know how recent the link is, but it appears to date to the 1970s. From what I can tell, the Sheek inholding was bought in the 1980s, but I still don't see that having happened on the Hindmarsh.) And the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund remains at the mercy of Congressional wingnuts. I don't know if the facility pictured at right is part of a private inholding or not; it looks like an oil tank battery, but could be something for wastewater from the nearby Far View Lodge. I don't recall that sign on the fence explicitly saying it's private property.

That said, let's say it is for the hotel, and it's government-owned. It's a fricking eyesore. The standard chain-link fencing doesn't help. Find the money and the labor — maybe through one of the student conservation programs — to build something like an inexpensive adobe wall. Said wall would also have containment value should either one of those tanks burst, as well. Water, sewage or whatever is in them, as it stands, that's a safety issue as well as an eyesore.

And, no, Raul Grijalva, taking a Ryan Zinke idea and turd-polishing it, of using BLM oil and gas funds to help pay for additional Park Service money, is not the answer. Ethically at least, especially on the issue of Southwestern parks facing climate change, your "answer" is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Personally, I would go back to the old Parks Pass at, say, $75 a year. Bump the All Access Pass to $100 — and make clear it covers ALL normal USFS fee areas. (Along with that, revising the 1872 mining act and other things would be part of the ideal plan.) I would be OK with some "peak pricing," as long as not too steep from off-peak times.

As for the paid tours, or the tours in general, and vandalism likely still happening there, as well as sites like Megalithic House? There's always the Ed Abbey answer — put it all under the equivalent of shrink wrap and close access entirely.

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