Back in 2005 during a trek to Mesa Verde National Park for a story I had the good fortune to be led by a ranger to Mug House, a cliff dwelling overlooking Rock Canyon that long has been closed to the public due, largely, to access difficulties. It's an intriguing ruin, one in a state of half-restoration, one that's much smaller than Cliff House. Visiting it was a privilege, one that, unfortunately, few get to enjoy.
This past year, however, during the park's centennial celebration, park officials resumed limited tours to both Mug House and Oak Tree House. Sadly, with the birthday celebration over, so, too, are the tours to these remote dwellings.
The problem, according to Tessy Shirakawa, is that Mesa Verde's current management plan does not provide for regular tours to those dwellings. Additionally, she told the Grand Junction Sentinel, the park has neither the budget nor enough rangers to lead those tours on a regular basis.
Which begs a question: Should more money be appropriated so regular tours to these dwellings can be made possible, or should they remain truly off the beaten path?
There are hundreds of cliff dwellings within the park's boundaries. Yet only five are open to regularly guided tours. Some of the closures are due to access difficulties, some due to stability issues, some due to the lack of rangers to conduct tours, some due to the lack of funding to restore the dwellings. More, no doubt, could be open on a regular basis if resources allowed. But as pinched as the Park Service is these days, such resources are scarce.
Just as it seems unfair that only a select few get to see these remarkable dwellings, it could be argued that just because these dwellings exist doesn't mean they should be open to the public. The dwellings that are open to tours -- Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Spruce Tree House, Long House and Step House -- and those that you can view from certain vantage points around the park certainly serve the purpose of depicting how the Ancestral Puebloans lived in this exacting landscape.
Indeed, throughout the national park system there are numerous areas off-limits to regular tours. In fact, there are millions of artifacts in the system's museum collections that are stashed away in dark storage areas because the Park Service lacks the resources and facilities to display them.
Knowing they exist is gratifying. Let's just hope they're not forgotten.