After driving 45 minutes on a serpentine road to a remote destination in Mesa Verde National Park we boarded the tram to take the tour of Long House. Tension, though mild, had been building. As is usually the case when decision making is left up to me, I chose poorly. When scheduling the tour, I failed to take into consideration that humans require sustenance. And though the more astute readers may view the storm clouds on the horizon as a metaphor, I can assure you that they were quite real.
Colette was concerned that the gear, specifically the sleeping bags, that had been left out at our campsite would blow away. I reassured her that at worst things would get a little wet. A problem easily corrected by the industrial size driers at the campground laundry. To be honest I was not entirely sure that would be the case.
As we boarded the tram, the wind had begun to gust, but still the sky above us was clear. Sunscreen was liberally applied to my seven-year-old son Evan. We were of course in a desert.
Ranger-guided tours at Mesa Verde have a tendency to become repetitive since virtually nothing is known about the Ancestral Puebloans. There is a reason why alien abduction remains a popular theory with amongst others, Fox Mulder. This one was no different. “We are not rally sure why they moved into these cliff dwelling,” “The architecture is truly amazing,” “We really don’t think it was drought that forced them to leave, but we don’t know for sure,” “The kivas may have been used as family meeting rooms, or for religious ceremonies, or as shelter from the cold, or something else,” “We just don’t know.”
What separated this from the other tours was the rapidity at which it was given as the storm clouds that had been perched in the distance swooped into the canyon.
“I don’t care if you get wet, but I am concerned about the lightening,” proclaimed Danger Ranger as he became know to my family. Before he earned this moniker I gave him the respect that comes with the hat he was quickly covering with a shower cap explaining that his failure to do so previously had resulted in the destruction of his old hat. This should have been my first clue that he may have been missing a chapter from his Mesa Survival Guide.
The drops of rain were large and cold. If Evan had looked up, he could have easily drowned in the tablespoon sized precipitation. In addition to my trust of the ranger, my decision making abilities were further compromised by the uncertain state of our campsite. I should have known better. I should have known that staying in the shelter constructed under literally tons of stone would have been safer that what was about to occur. The tour following ours was in the shelter and wisely decided to stay put. Instead, I followed the ranger’s command to make the trek along the steep stairs and narrow path up the side of the exposed cliff.
The rain on our faces mixed with sweat and the gritty desert dust to create a blindingly toxic potion. I had Evan by the hand dragging him up the hill. Colette, struggling with the elevation, was left behind as I rushed Evan to safety.
In a matter of seconds the thunder had grown from the rumbling of a disgruntled crowd to the crack of a police baton against the skull of a rioter. My memories of lightening are vague at best because I was squinting through stinging eyes, and I felt Evan’s hand slipping from mine as the storm tried to pull from by grasp.
Colette was no longer in sight so I was the only ears to hear Evan’s pleas to rescue him from the cold sting of rain and the ear-numbing thunder.
Around each bend, behind each tree, and between each deafening growl I expected to see sanctuary, but it remained elusive. It was as if it had been erased with a few sonic shakes of the global etch-a-sketch. As the cover of shelter neared the sound of thunder was replaced by the maniacal marching bass drum beat of my heart. Desperately sucking in the dry desert air aggravated the cough that had nagged me through the early days of our trip. Evan and I had made it, but I knew I had to go back and get Colette.
Leaving Evan with David, assuming that a pedophile would not concoct an elaborate plan involving the National Park Service, Danger Ranger and weather manipulation, I rushed to recover Colette. I found her accompanied by a helpful woman only about fifty yards down the path. She immediately questioned me about Evan, but was reassured to find out that David was in the same party as the woman that had helped her. This reduced his pedophile percentage to near zero.
We were reunited and sheltered though there were lingering doubts considering that we were ensconced in a metal-framed tent atop a 9000 foot mesa. But, if we were going to die we would do so dry and in the company of thirty or so strangers.
Danger Ranger, in a rare show of responsibility, brought up the rear of our group. Not content, however, to leave any semblance of heroism he decided to reclaim his role as purveyor of anecdotal evidence. His thought process must have gone something like this:
Mouth: Hey brain, I don’t think they are scared enough.
Brain: Are you sure? I think they have had enough.
Mouth: Naw. Give them a good story. That’s your job. You are a ranger to the end.
Brain: If you say so.
Huddled together in the center of the tent to avoid the viper bite of cold and rain I was unable to protect Evan from the cascade of fear that was about to descend.
“Did you all here about the people that died in the storm at the Grand Tetons?”
Evan stammered, “Dad I don’t want anybody to die before they are old, and it’s their time.”
Though impressed by the sophistication of his empathy, I was mad that the thought was ever introduced into his mind. “Nobody is going to die,” I reassured. Though as with the status of our campground I had a few doubts.
And because death was not nearly menacing enough Danger Ranger continued, “I had a buddy that was struck by lightening and he hasn’t been right since.” Brilliant so if we don’t die at least Evan can be sure that his parents will become lobotomized zombies plaguing him the rest of his life.
By this point the tram had arrived and Evan hade slipped into a fear induced coma. We returned soaking wet to the car and retraced our path to a mildly wet, but relatively undisturbed campsite. I was two for two with my optimistic predictions. Our gear survived, as did we. I didn’t, however, forecast Evan’s fear of any cloud darker than dingy laundry. The cumuluphobia extends to photos and videos of clouds as well as the rumble of distant planes and Harleys, which are much more common in our nation’s parks than you would think.
He will eventually grow out of it, but hopefully he is smarter than his father and learned to recognize Danger Ranger when he appears again.