You are much more likely to find me out on a trail than a museum but one thing I can say for the parks is that their ranger programs have been universally excellent. Each time I walked away feeling like I had a much greater understanding and appreciation of the park. They are really able to pull together the history, geology, climate, and ecology that makes me think, yes, I definitely picked the wrong profession. I have never wanted to wear poorly fitted, forest green pants so much in my life.
In some parks like the caves or Mesa Verde, a tour is almost required to get up close and see the best stuff. I always have mixed feeling about this. It reminds me of middle school or high school when you love the book you read for English class but then discover you have to do a group project on it. To compound the problem, the teacher would assign the groups so you knew she would pair you with one of the “under performers” to even things out, as if my spending time with these students would suddenly inspire them to crack open the book and want to dissect the symbolism rather than just reduce me to spending a class period explaining the plot to those that could not be bothered with Cliff Notes.
Tour groups in the parks have a way of attracting the same range of abilities, intellectual and physical. First you have the many retired couples. They are usually active if not fit types that I am accustomed to from the campground circuit. They are quick to strike up personal conversations that usually border on the intrusive. “Alone? Why are you here alone? What happened?”
There is a least one person that has been there before and tries to impress the ranger with her extensive, if questionably accurate, knowledge based on their one visit 15 years ago.
There are two families. One has the bored looking teenagers with glassy eyes and headphones on. The other has the 3 children ranging from 10 to infant. The only thing interrupting the 4 year-old’s chatter is the intermittent screeching of the infant which we all pretend is not making it hard to hear the ranger. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how active and fit everyone is in the group, if there is that one person with a cane or oxygen, you will not be going any faster than that.
This became a critical factor in Mesa Verde. Unlike in the good old days of 1280, they don’t make you free climb the rock walls to get into the houses. Instead there are a series of ladders and steps to get up and down. I am not great with heights. This means, yes, I have been known to panic when given time to contemplate the possibility of failure. I do okay when I just go for it (See Crater Lake). However, being in line with 40 people climbing a 32 foot ladder means being stuck 20 feet in the air while someone else has a panic attack. Those seem to be infectious. It starts taking a lot of will power to not grab the ankles of the guy above me to pull him off so I can just get to the top already.
The experience gave me a lot of respect for the Indians. I barely survived 2 hours with my groups and they made it almost 100 years!