When Mesa Verde National Park decided to build a new Visitor and Research Center, it put in motion a series of events that resulted in a unique reunion of two long lost friends.
Trina Lindig, of Mancos, and Frieda Wray, of Long Beach, CA. grew up together at the park in the 1950s and 60s helping their archaeologist parents unearth ancient artifacts.
The two were best friends, going to class in a one-room school house, participating— to the extent children can — in archaeological digs, and exploring the backcountry.
Meals were eaten under canvas tents, and one can easily imagine the adults in full safari-style attire sorting artifacts and carefully putting them in storage.
It was a time when Mesa Verde’s unique human history was being introduced to the American public. National Geographic featured a cover story on the park in 1964 titled “Wetherill Mesa Yields Secrets of Cliff Dwellers.”
In one photo, Lindig’s mother, archaeologist apprentice Sue Waite, is seen gluing sherds together reconstructing a large cooking pot.
Frieda’s father, chief archaeologist Dr. Douglas Osborne, is shown among a huge collection of decorated bowls, jars, dippers and mugs laid out on the ground.
“I was always impressed how my mother could put those pots back together so well,” Lindig recalled.
When their families moved on the two friends fell out of touch. After a career as a park ranger, Lindig settled in Mancos.
Then in 2013, the park opened a new visitor and research center off U.S. 160. Lindig was asked to help catalogue and move the same artifacts she handled as a child, prompting the Cortez Journal to do a feature story.
“That is what led to Frieda and I finding each other,” Lindig said. “A friend told Frieda she saw her name in a newspaper article about Mesa Verde and then there was a roller coaster of phone calls and emails.”
On July 5, they reunited at Mesa Verde National Park for the first time in 50 years.
“I have not been back since I was a child,” Wray said, amidst much hugging and laughing. “The park has changed quite a bit.”
“Your still taller than me,” Lindig said.
The two spent the day reminiscing, exploring their old haunts, homes, and schools, some of which are still standing.
“Back then our parents let us explore the canyons on our own. I still remember when we smoked our first yucca cigarettes,” Wray says. “My dad gave popular talks at Wetherill Mesa about his research. All the park employees were like an extended family.”
The roads were all dirt, and in rough condition.
“To get the Studebaker up the hills, the archeologists and us kids would have to jump out and push,” Wray recalls. “It is fun to take a trip down memory lane. It was an outdoor lifestyle back then.”
“Those were some magical summer days,” added Lindig. “We are reliving them today in a sense. “It was a neat childhood and made us who we are.”
In all, 3 million artifacts were moved from storage at Chapin Mesa to the modern storage facilities at the new visitors center. Many were handled by Wray and Lindig during their childhoods.
“To be one of the first to touch these historical treasures was very special,” Lindig said. “It was a real honor to return all these years later and help put them in a permanent home.”