Friday, May 18, 2012

Race report: 12 Hours of Mesa Verde, v. 3.0, part I

What do you do for Mothers Day when you don't have kids or a mother that lives locally? Race the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde for the third year in a row! This year Drew and I joined forces as Team Stone Fox and Bunny for this disco-themed, ultra fun mountain bike race on the Phil's World trail system near Cortez, Colorado.
We started last week early with a couple of nights stay at the condo in Moab. We intended to do some easy rides, but maintenance chores took up the entire stay. It was very lovely in Moab though, and we had a few moments to enjoy the nice weather on the patio.

On Thursday we headed over to Cortez and checked into the VRBO house we had rented for the weekend.

 Wow, what a beautiful house! Two bedrooms and a gourmet kitchen.

Outside was a hot tub, greenhouse, hammock, and observation deck looking out over the valley. 

Nice place to base the weekend and spend time with our friends Jim and Shelly. This was a far cry from last year's adventure in Bobke.
Thursday evening we took a lap on the race course and remembered why we love this race; the 16.5 mile loop is one of the funnest 16 miles you can ride on a bike!
 To those readers that don't mountain bike, this next picture may look a little boring, but if you bike you can recognize the fast turns and little bumps.  To be truthful, this section was just somewhat fun.  The real fun parts were so fun I couldn't stop to take a picture.

After the pre-ride we had dinner at the brewery (poor service and mediocre food, but good beer) with teammate Doug and honorary teammate Jeff before heading back to the house to meet Jim and Shelly.
On Friday, Jim, Shelly, and Drew pre-rode the course while I fulfilled a 3-year desire to go to Mesa Verde National Park.  My cousin Milissa from Colorado and her clan (hubby, his siblings and their spouses and child, who we met at the Pierre's Hole race last year) were going in, so I tagged along on two ranger-led tours.

First, we went into Cliff Palace, the largest of the Ancestral Puebloan People's dwellings.

To access the site, we descended some cool stairs.

Up close, we learned that they built this site around between 1190 and 1280 and occupied it for only 60 to 100 years before they moved on. What made them move is a mystery, but theories include prolonged drought that made the Mesa top non-arable, resource depletion (soil, large animals for hunting, trees for building and firewood) and/or warfare (probably due to resource depletion).
Archeologists think Cliff Palace, with its 129 rooms and eight kivas, was home to about 60 to 90 people. 

 The kivas (below) were ceremonial pits. They had roofs, but those are gone now so we can see into the structure.  The thin vertical rock to the upper right of the central fire pit is a deflector stone which deflects the draft coming down the ventilation shaft behind it.  Another ventilation shaft is positioned on the side close to me, which created air circulation.  The little round hole on the floor a few feet down and left of the fire pit is the sipapu, or symbolic entrance to the underworld.  

As a hydrogeologist, I found it interesting that both the very existence of the alcoves in which the dwellings were constructed and also the water source for the inhabitants is due to the particular hydrogeology of the mesa. The rock overhanging all the cliff dwellings in the park is the Cliffhouse Sandstone Formation. Underlying the sandstone is the Mancos Shale. Precipitation falling on the mesa top percolates through the porous sandstone until it reaches the impervious shale and then it must move laterally. Where it emerges on the cliff wall a seep spring is formed. Over millennia, erosion and freeze-thaw cycles break down the sandstone and create the alcove. The seeps provide enough water for small communities.

 In the picture above the darker area at knee level is one such seep.  Here is another view.

To exit Cliff Palace, we had to climb up some narrow rock steps, next to which were the real hand and foot holds pecked into the rock by the Ancestral Puebloans.  I tried them out, but I have bigger feet than they did.

Next was Balcony House. To access this site, we got to climb a big ladder.

Balcony House is a smaller site and about half the alcove was devoted to storage of grain, water and food behind a big masonry wall. Our guide was convinced this was for defense purposes.

 On the other side of the wall were the living areas.

 Ranger dude showed us the metate and mano corn grinding stone sets and explained that the sandstone grit incorporated into the corn upon grinding is what killed many of the Indians by grinding their teeth down to nothing.

It is truly amazing how well preserved these ruins are. The only work that has been done is to stabilize about 20% of the walls. The juniper wood is still structural, the plaster still has color, some of the art and decorative paint (below, orange) is still visible, as are soot stains (below, black) from the fire pits.

 A cute shot of Christian and Milissa

before we exited through a skinny tunnel

and climbed a ladder and crazy trail to exit the Balcony House site. 

Back in the day, there were no ladders or even ropes - everyone entered by climbing down this steep cliff using hand and foot holds.  How did they do that carrying baskets of grain and water?!

The tours and the park were really fabulous!

Next up: the race.

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