When I was around the age that my children are currently I visited Mesa Verde with my mom, sisters and my two favorite aunts. They were hot air balloonists who traveled all over the country flying their teal and pink hot air balloon. It is my first recollection of visiting a national park and the memory of this incredible place filled with wildflowers, deer, cool summer nights, and ancient places to explore has stuck with me all these years. I have wanted to come back to this place for a long time and I was so happy that the kids chose it from the endless list of places to visit in this corner of the planet. Having been so long since I had visited I was not sure what to expect, but the reality far exceeded my expectations and has lead me to a rather huge revelation about myself.
We woke up early feeling refreshed from sleeping with the windows open and the cool breeze keeping us comfortable all night. The sunrise welcomed us to the morning as we made plans to visit both the Balcony House and Cliff Palace, two incredible examples of cliff dwellings left very much intact by the ancient Pueblo Indians. Climbing the 40 foot ladder out of the dwellings and crawling through a narrow tunnel that the original inhabitants used to get to and from their cliffside homes was quite and adventure and left us all in awe of the possibility of living in such a place. While we gazed over the edge of the ledge out beyond the mesa we noticed storm clouds all around. That is when the ranger informed us that she needed to call the weather control station to see if we needed to take cover from incoming lighting. She proceeded to tell us over 80% of the park has been on fire at some point due to lightning strikes, being that it is the 2nd most likely place in the US to get hit by lightning. But she assured us for the same reasons the Indians chose this site we would be safe within it's protective cove.
When the coast was clear we were free to climb out of the sheltered cliffs and onto the exposed Mesa tops where we had started our day. We climbed out just in time for a summer rain storm to pass on through. Now we are from Virginia where summer rains are rarely thought of as a good thing. They are wet and sticky and bring the heat and humidity, but in the desert a rain storm is wondrous. Together the boys and I walked around in the cool drizzle with the smell of wet earth and fragrant juniper filling the air. Also enjoying the rain were the warblers, their songs echoed all around us disturbed only by the sounds of thunder claps that shook the earth. As we hiked up to the highest point on the mesa storm clouds surrounded the area and treated us to a 360 degree view of lightning striking from a safe distance in every direction. We must have sat up there for 20 minutes enjoying the show, when the most incredible rainbow I have ever seen appeared across the dark gray sky. If there had been any gold we would have found it as the rainbow arched all the way across the sky diving into the earth on either ends of our hillside perch. We gazed, and laughed, posed for photos, and couldn't believe how fortunate we were to be at such a beautiful place in such a special moment. And then just like that it was gone, as if it was never there, just a dream from some far off place, so we descended the hill and drove our home on wheels back to our campsite to enjoy the sunset.
Childhood memories of beautiful places have a way of intensifying with the passage of time, especially for a sentimental person like myself, but as beautiful as I had remembered Mesa Verde to be all these years, almost nothing could compare to the day I had there with my boys. That day in Colorado made me realize an important thing about myself, something that has been percolating for a while but hit me like a thunderbolt that day, I need mountains, I need space, I need wilderness, and I need more of this. But what was even more revelatory is that we were all feeling this in some way. How this will come into play in our future is still undecided, but we are ready to make the changes necessary to achieve more of this ↓ in our life. More on this is sure to come and we prepare to go after the life we really want.