Recently I visited Mesa Verde National Park and realized that whoever writes information about hikes and adventures for the National Park Service loves to exaggerate information.
I didn't realize that there were two big tours of the Native American Ruins at Mesa Verde--one being the Cliff Palace and the other, Balcony House. So me and my group were reading about the tours and the Cliff Palace seemed like a breeze, but the Balcony House was frightening. It mentioned climbing up steep ladders and crawling through a 12 foot tunnel and lighting candles and getting your last rites before the tour! It even had a "demo tunnel" at the Visitor Center to give you some idea of how narrow the tunnel was.
I know I am not ready to climb Mt. Everest nor did I feel ready to tackle the Balcony House. However, the Cliff Palace seemed like a reasonable tour, so I went to purchase tickets from the friendly Ranger at the Visitor Center. This Ranger looked at me, and started talking so fast that I wondered how much coffee she had that morning, and I couldn't quite grasp what she was saying. Before I could ask for a rerun, she gave me two tickets and shouted "NEXT" and the next unsuspecting tourist nudged me out of the way. I looked over the tickets--one for Cliff Palace and the other was the dreaded Balcony House!!!
So we crawled through the practice tunnel outside the Visitor Center which was not very long and talked about our claustrophic experiences in life and decided we would go to the Cliff Palace and think about the Balcony House.
The Cliff Palace Tour was like going to Disneyland in the Summer without Snow White and those other characters in drag. It was physically easy and although the Ruins were impressive, the tour was not.
That's what pushed us to the Balcony House--we wanted a great tour and a Ranger that could provide more than the scripted talk she had rehearsed. We discussed our Wills and who to notify in case of an accident as we drove to the Tour Starting spot where we were greeted by Ranger Tim and 4 other people. Tim didn't look like a mountain climber or extreme sports kind of guy. He was in his 50's with a little bit of a belly and when asked questions about the ladders and the tunnel, he said "I do it several times a day". Figuring if Ranger Tim could do it, so could we, off we went.
The Balcony House Tour was fantastic--six people--a great Ranger who had lots of stories and could answer any question put to him. As for the death-defying ladder climbs....they were high but not scary or unsafe and the tunnel was tall enough for me to bend over and walk through. Granted, those over 5 ft tall might have to crawl, but it was perfect for those of us who are vertically challenged.
I went back and reread the paper given at the front gate about the tour, thinking I must have misunderstood how dangerous this tour was, but no, it sounded like something only the very fit or foolish should ever do. Maybe the people who write these descriptions are frustrated authors of fiction or maybe the National Park Service uses them for the purpose of crowd control. At any rate, from, now on I am going to definitely hike or go on the Ranger Tour that sounds the most dangerous and terrifying because I know NPS secret!