Back in the 90s when we had our first RV, a little green Terry trailer, and the kids were kids, we took a Chevy-Chase-style summer vacation through Dinosaur, Flaming Gorge, and Arches National Parks. For some reason which I have forgotten, we skipped Mesa Verde. I remember that I was intrigued by photos of the ancient, abandoned Pueblos of Mesa Verde and wanted to go there – but we didn’t.

Well, with all the stars aligned this year, we just had to go, and go we did a few days ago. But folks, I gotta tell ya, Mesa Verde National Park was disappointing.

In the first place, the weather was overcast which doesn’t help. When we checked at the Visitor Center we learned that much of the park doesn’t open until May so many of the popular sights simply weren’t available for us, including the campsites. We checked at a commercial campsite outside the park and it was $40 – $50. For a skinflint like me that was a real turnoff.

Outraged by the disappointments, we were on our way to greener pastures when I decided that we needed to turn around and see whatever we could in the park.

We drove up the steep road onto the mesa (which, by the way, should be called Mesa Gris (gray mesa) not Mesa Verde (green mesa.) So many fires have burned through the park that only dead wood is visible.

The only pueblo that was open was one called Spruce Tree House (see photo.) After the pristine nature of the Hovenweep ruins, Spruce Tree House seemed sullied – about like a Disneyland version of a ruin where stucco and paint simulate stone and timber. Or perhaps an aging woman unsuccessfully trying to cover her age with makeup. I suppose wear and tear is inevitable when thousands of little kids run their greasy hands over the surface of things. But what is this? Do I see the telltale patina of spray paint?

I mentioned this to Mary but she wouldn’t accept it. She put the question to the attending ranger who denied that the Park Service had painted the ruin. But closer inspection confirmed my suspicion. Cement-based mortar had been used to repair the stone wall. In places it had been rubbed off and the cement color was clearly visible. The rest of the ruin had a uniform tan color that closely approximated sandstone – but not quite. Anyone who has seen graffiti painted over knows the look. I don’t know if the ranger was lying or merely ignorant but this is not what I expect of the Department of the Interior – painting ruins and then lying about it!

We beat a hasty retreat to nearby Moab, Utah – a mountain biking mecca with red sandstone in every direction. The Moab I remembered from our last vacation as a place where outdoor enthusiasts outnumber all other forms of humanity is still here. We are camped atop a mesa out of town on BLM land – good ol’ BLM where the nightly fee is $7.50 and the mountain biking trails are everywhere.

It was rather cold and windy yesterday so we decided to forego a bike ride until today. We went over to nearby Dead Horse State Park and took a hike. The red sandstone is awesome – unless of course they PAINTED IT AND THEN LIED ABOUT IT!