What our students did with their summer: internship at Mesa Verde National Park

By , August 3, 2011 8:08 pm

[Freshman geology major Emma Rodgers spent part of her summer at an internship at Mesa Verde National Park, working as an Interpretive Assistant. In this post, she tells about her experience.]

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Cross-bedding at Mesa VerdeMesa Verde…
The green table of the desert
The home of an ancient history
The treasure of the Southwest
H ivam yeese’s

For those of you unfamiliar with Mesa Verde National Park, here is a brief run down:

  • Established in 1906
  • Has over 5000 archeological sites, from pit houses to cliff dwellings
  • Full of happy and friendly employees who love to talk, joke around, and hang out
  • Balcony House is a super fun place

Well, that’s it! Just joking, I’m sure there’s more (well there is) but that’s all you need to know for now.

In the summer of 2011, I did an interpretation internship at Mesa Verde. I wasn’t translating from Mandarin Chinese to Spanish or anything, but acting as a second uniform on guided tours. My job was to be a Tail Ranger, and my job was just as fun as the title! I got to hear everyone’s story, where they were from, how long they were here, how much fun they were having, how fascinating they found Mesa Verde. It is such a unique experience to hear what people are thinking.

Daily though, I would literally tail guided tours in Balcony House, make sure visitors were safe, fast, and respectful of sites, make sure sites stayed the same, and answer questions…over and over and over. My favorite questions were the ones where you just know the visitor is not thinking straight, and they have this slight air of self satisfaction of ‘Wow, I just came up with that question all on my own!’ But I am being mean. Most of the time they just were not thinking. These questions, though, were:

  • How many years does it take a deer to turn into an elk?
  • Why did they build the dwellings so far from the highway?
  • What happened to all the dead and burned trees?
  • What percent of the sites are undiscovered?

I especially loved how the rangers would answer these questions, especially when they were bored!

Now as a geology major, I always felt the need to give visitors some perspective, if not an appreciation, of how geology affects what we see everyday. In Mesa Verde, I ended up saying, “If it weren’t for geology (geologic processes), there would be no cliff dwellings and you probably would not be here.” Which is totally true! But I would always end up with these looks, grinning and overwhelmed but polite, like they didn’t want to listen or think about earth processes…Well, ok, it’s summer vacation, you don’t have to think.

But every now and then, there would be a visitor who was genuinely interested. Or sometimes a visitor who was an environmental hydrogeologist from Texas…Ah! That’s when I would get big eyed and end up listening to what they had to say. But when people were interested, I was able to discuss when and why the rocks were deposited, what certain unique features were, and how rocks came in handy to the Ancestral Puebloans.

One thing I think is really special about geology is that it is one of the studies that most people wish they could have learned more about in school. In today’s world too, geology is becoming more and more popular, not only with mining, but also in government surveys and maybe even in institutions. Geology happens all around us everyday, and just because we cannot see it, does not mean it isn’t important.

If there was any geology on a ranger’s tour, it was how an alcove was formed. Because of this, I will never forget how an alcove is formed and, hearing it phrased 60 different ways, I should hope I could explain it.

But through all the redundant questions, the usual story, the proud, and even the defensive visitors, I had a fantastic summer. I haven’t worked as long as other interpretive rangers and many of them say they still don’t understand the Ancestral Puebloans.

What I enjoyed the most, though, was getting people to think about where they were and who lived here long ago. We have found a 1030ft section of yucca rope, clay pots 2ft tall, and cliff dwellings with more than 150 rooms. You don’t make this kind of stuff if you are trying to survive. You don’t build structures that take months to create if you’re fighting for resources.

Mesa Verde was not a desolate, barren, land. It was full of life, for a time, full of flourishing people. They may have left, but even today, hundreds of Pueblo people visit Mesa Verde, the home of their ancestors. When you go into the cliff dwellings, treat them as you would treat a place that you hold special, because the Pueblo people do.

Cliffs at Mesa Verde National Park

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