If You’re Touring Mesa Verde, She Said, Be Sure to Ask for Paula

Interpretive ranger Paula Wolfe really knows her stuff. Bob Janiskee photo.

When word got around that our Dumb and Dumber tour of southwestern Colorado would include a stop at Mesa Verde National Park, my buddy Jim Elder and I started getting park-related information and advice from relatives, friends, and acquaintances. The collective wisdom of the Been There, Done That contingent is a wonderful asset, is it not?

I had made my 2009 travel intentions known by way of a wish list posted right here in Traveler on New Years Day. This prompted several Traveler readers to send helpful suggestions. One that caught my attention came from Sara Gradwohl by way of her husband Dan.

Knowing that we’d be in Mesa Verde for only a short time, and correctly surmising that we’d be taking a guided tour, Sara urged us to try to get on a tour led by interpretive ranger Paula Wolfe. Our smartest move at the park, she said, would be to simply take whatever tour Paula is leading – Cliff Palace, Balcony House, whatever.

This was advice to be taken seriously. Sara had been a seasonal ranger at Mesa Verde in 2006 and 2007, and she had roomed with Paula. Sara ought to know whether Paula is a first rate guide.

I really wanted to take one of those Paula-led tours, but there were a couple of glitches. (Isn’t there always at least one glitch?) Our Dumb and Dumber tour was very tightly scheduled, with almost no room for ad hoc decisions about things like lodging and tours and such. The Jim Elder half of the D&D duo had already booked us into the park’s Far View Lodge for the night before our Mesa Verde exploration, and an Aramark tour, scheduled for the following morning, was part of the lodging package. The tour would begin right after our breakfast at the Far View Terrace, which was also part of the package.

Perhaps an afternoon tour with Paula might have been arranged, but we’ll never know. Immediately after our morning tour ended we would have to leave Mesa Verde, make the long drive to the Ute Mountain Tribal Park visitor center, and present ourselves in time for the afternoon tour of Ute-managed cliff dwellings we’d also signed up for. It would be a very busy day, capped by an evening trip to the Four Corners Monument, and there was no room for maneuver.

On Sunday morning, May 10, Jim and I climbed aboard the Aramark tour bus in the Far View Terrace parking lot, grabbed two pretty good seats, and got ready for a memorable experience. It proved to be even more memorable than we expected.

I had paid scant attention to the ranger who was to be our guide, but when she stepped to the front of the bus and introduced herself as Paula, my head snapped up. That’s when I noticed for the first time that this lady ranger’s name tag read PAULA WOLFE. “Hey,” I blurted out in true D&D fashion, “are you Paula Wolfe?” Duh……

Paula certainly lived up to her advance billing. Her friendly demeanor, expert commentary, and infinite patience made our Mesa Verde tour an experience to be treasured.

If there is a moral to the story, it is this: You should follow good advice, even if you do it by accident.

Postscript: Whoever said that “timing is everything” certainly had it right. If Jim and I had arrived at Mesa Verde even one day sooner, we would have missed Paula entirely. A foot injury -- something having to do with dropping a ten-pound exercise weight – had kept Paula sidelined for a week. The tour she led that morning was her first assignment of the 2009 season.