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Visitor Stories



Kim and Neal overlooking Cliff Palace in 1996

We Met the Greatest Loves of Our Lives at Mesa Verde National Park

By Neal and Kimberly Gronlie – Our Story

Our stop at Mesa Verde National Park in August of 1970 was almost an afterthought at the time. Dad’s vacation time was nearing an end, and it would take a couple of days or more to make the long trip home again to California. But the images in the travel maps of beautiful and rustic stone cliff houses built under natural arches, gorgeous high desert sunsets and wide open spaces made us feel it was necessary to go and see these wondrous things. Who knew when we would be able to pass this way again? And so fate stepped in – we soon found ourselves at Mesa Verde’s Morefield campground about mid-afternoon and quickly set to work putting up camp. Our campsite was #318 on Hano Loop, and it gave us easy access to all Mesa Verde had to offer. We settled in and planned to stay for a couple of days before packing up again for home.

The next thing that happened in Morefield was a fateful event that would change my life, even as a 15-year old. Browsing for a campsite through Hano Loop was a dark blue pickup truck with silver camper. In the front seat, it looked like a woman driving. In the center what appeared to be a small child was looking and pointing, and in the right front seat was a young girl with long, beautiful auburn-brown hair. They slowed while passing our camp, looking at #316 campsite next to us, but they didn’t stop. Driving on, it looked like the browsing would continue. In my head, I was thinking it would be wonderful if they decided to camp next to us on their next drive around the loop. To make that more likely, I waited until they were out of sight around the next corner and then sprang up quickly to clean up our neighboring campsite, removing any and all trash, sprucing up the table position and fire area, moving some fallen branches out of the way, and generally making #316 look like paradise on earth to the best of my ability. This effort paid off, because on their next trip around Hano Loop the family with the beautiful brown-haired girl in the right front seat stopped and set up camp at #316! I really hoped she would be the right age and friendly!

Later that night, I found out the answer. In our campsite #318, we finished dinner and cleaned up. A little later, I brought out my guitar and sat at the table playing a popular song from that year, “Close to You” by the Carpenters, hoping to get some positive attention from our neighbors. As luck would have it, the lovely brown-haired girl knew the song and came over to say hello and listen. She seemed very impressed with my guitar playing and we had our first conversation. Was I ever delighted! Her name was Kim, and she was travelling from the Denver area with her mother, a single parent, and her brother to Mesa Verde for a couple of days camping to explore the cliff dwellings and museum. They had arrived earlier in the day and had already been through the Cliff Palace tour which they enjoyed very much. We talked excitedly about the things to see and do at Mesa Verde, and all members of both families joined in the conversation. Eventually, we talked about some activities offered at discount to family groups. To my great pleasure and surprise, both Kim’s mom and my dad were interested in making plans together as a “family group.” We named our group the Gronlie Six! Exploring the park together would help us both save so we could put the money toward other park activities. And, being together with our new friends would be an even more exciting way to explore the park. We went to our   separate camps to rest for the night, each of us thinking with great expectations about the things coming up.

The Gronlie Six

One of the stops we made was to Spruce Tree House down the trail below the Mesa Verde Museum. This cliff dwelling has a kiva that was prepared for visitors to climb down into. We couldn’t wait to climb down.  It was a very exciting thing to do, and it was remarkable how cool the kiva air was compared to the August summer heat in Mesa Verde above ground. We wanted to stay in the kiva as long as possible, but eventually had to return to the heated air above to see other things.
 

 

The Gronlie Six as we explored Mesa Verde

during our first visit in 1970.
 

  Kim and Neal on August 25, 1970 inside the Spruce Tree House kiva with their younger brothers.


We also enjoyed the early evening hay rack ride as the Gronlie Six on one of our days together. Since that time, the hay rack wagon has been retired but it was sitting outside the Morefield Ranger Station and Campground Store during our visit in 2004. In appearance, the wagon seemed somewhat of a relic from an earlier time. But we still have great memories of the days when that wagon was in use and we went for a hayride in it.
 

 










The hay rack wagon around 

2004 at Morefield Store after

it had been repurposed

to hold firewood for Mesa 

Verde visitors.


Separation after Three Days
On August 26, 1970 the Gronlie Six separated after three memorable days. It was truly awful, after so many wonderful experiences together in such a short period of time. It was a sad parting, and promises were made to keep in touch by writing, and by calling whenever our parents would allow it. At that time, calls between California and Colorado were long distance and the telephone companies charged a lot for the time. It could easily cost well over $65 to talk for somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes. Of course, as teenagers, we could easily talk that long!

Keeping the Long Distance Relationship
Our parents were quick to keep the phone calls to a minimum due to the cost. Letters and the US Postal Service helped our love grow and stay alive between California and Colorado. Words on paper can convey a lot if the person writing takes some care to be playful, loving, sincere, and interested in the other person while committing thoughts to paper. And the one reading can be delighted to be loved, sincerely cherished and thought about so deeply by the writer. We both think this is something modern young people miss out on – having a meaningful relationship over a long distance, kept alive mainly through correspondence. It seems to be a lost art to communicate this way, and it can be deeply appreciated and meaningful to both people in the relationship!

Short Visits and Finally Separation in 1973
In addition to the long-distance telephone calls, my family was generous enough to send me to Denver twice to visit Kim. The first time was to join with Kim’s family for another summer vacation trip a year later, and the second time was over Christmas vacation the year after that. Kim’s father also brought her out to California for a visit in 1973. We had a wonderful time, but also a sad time as we entered a period where we broke up for a while at the end of our high school years.
 
We were separated but very much in each other’s thoughts for the subsequent 11 years. Both of us were married to and divorced from other people during that time apart. By the time 1984 had arrived, we were both single again and I now had two small children as part of my family.

Back in Touch, 1984
In 1984, I was travelling between California and New Jersey often for business. The trips would have me staying for months at a time on the east coast, then back home to California for a few weeks, then out on travel again. Sometimes, I would have to change planes in Dallas or Houston. Other times I would change planes in Denver, and then I would always think fondly about my first love, Kim, and wondered how her life was going.

On October 19, 1984 as I returned through Denver from one trip, I finally decided to get back in touch with Kim. While waiting at the airport, I found a pay phone and combed through the phone book for her family name. Narrowing down the choices to one or two, I paid coins for the local calls and finally hit pay dirt reaching her father’s family home. I explained myself and was able to get Kim’s work and home phone numbers, and was also able to leave a message with her family to please call me at home in California, ideally that night at 10:00 p.m. when I knew I would be home.   The time came and went with no phone call, and I went to sleep that night wondering if she was free to call me, and really hoped that she was. After falling asleep, I was awakened around 2:00 a.m. with the phone ringing. It was Kim to my great joy, and she explained the messages had not gotten through until she returned home that evening from a date! I didn’t care, just being completely thrilled to hear the sound of her voice on the phone again after so many years!

We had a long conversation that night, and made plans to get in touch again the next day, and additional days beyond that. To actually meet up again, we made plans for me to visit her over Thanksgiving at the end of another business trip in 1984. It was a wonderful visit, covering so many memories and renewing our acquaintance. By the time the visit was over 4 days later I was deeply in love with Kim all over again, and I thought she might be in love with me again, too. Later, we talked about this in some depth and realized we had never really stopped loving each other. It was more a matter of that awkward transition from being a child to being a fully responsible adult that got in the way earlier when we broke up at the end of high school. We were definitely grown up now, with jobs, homes and responsibilities. And we were both single and really interested in being together again.

We made plans for her to visit me in California during the Christmas holiday where she met my children and fell in love with them too, and by then we knew we wanted to marry, and really soon so we could all be together!

Marriage in 1985
We made wedding plans and consulted family members about timing. Before long, we had a plan to marry in California where we would live initially. Our marriage date would be March 23, the same date her beloved grandparents in Denver had gotten married some 56 years earlier. They were a loving and devoted couple, always caring about each other deeply, and it was an honor they were willing to share their wedding date with us. They were married 66 years.
 

 

















Wedding photo of Neal and Kim in 1985.


Visits to Mesa Verde through the Years
We’ve been to Mesa Verde with many people over the years: with parents; our children and sometimes with their friends, too; our good friends; ourselves, multiple times, for special occasions.

 

 
Neal and Kim with children Tristan and Meaghan, and their
friend Brandi (middle), in the Spruce Tree House kiva, 1990.
 

Neal and Kim (left) with good friends Diana and Marlowe

at Mesa Verde’s Metate Room in 2006.


When our 25th Anniversary came up in 2010, it was an easy decision to return to Mesa Verde where we first met for the celebration. It was during March, so Mesa Verde did not have the crowds that can be there during the summer season. That left the park very quiet and peaceful for our visit, which served to enhance the beauty, solitude and spirituality we always feel when we’re there. The spirits of the Old Ones who used to live in Mesa Verde were our perfect witnesses for renewing our vows. We came prepared to make the special photo at Sun Temple (below) that shows our beginning time, our marriage time, and our presence on our 25th Anniversary. So much of life has gone past now, and so much of it made better by thinking about or visiting this wonderful place.
 

 
Kim and Neal taken at the Metate Room in 2006.

 
 

Kim and Neal on their 25th Anniversary in 2010 at Mesa Verde

holding images from their past – when they first met in 1970,

and when they married in 1985.

 

What memory or favorite experience are you willing to share about Mesa Verde?
Please send your stories to info@mesaverdefoundation.org. We know there are wonderful stories about the park, we hope you will share them with us.

Stories will be selected and published in upcoming foundation newsletters. The stories can be submitted by anyone of any age. With your written permission to print the story, we will take it from there. Please include a picture of yourself in the park. If you don't have a photograph of yourself at Mesa Verde, please consider submitting another photograph of yourself.

In turn, if your story is selected, we'll send you a gift as a thank you and as a reminder of your time in this magical national park.


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