A Tale of Two Museums

Accessible pathways at Ute Museum

Since the government shut down, I’ve been scrambling to find accessible non-National Park things to do in a land filled with National Parks. Such was the case yesterday, when we visited Montrose, Colorado. In normal times, the big attraction in the area is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, but since ever square inch of its hiking trails and overlooks are littered with those attractive orange cones, I decided to check out what the local museums had to offer. And although it was an interesting day, one museum rose head-and-shoulders above the other as far as access is concerned.

That museum was the Ute Museum. Although the building was obviously constructed in pre-ADA times, the access was excellent. The parking lot was covered in gravel, however accessible parking was available on a cement slab, with sidewalk access to the museum entrance. Inside there was barrier-fee access to all of the galleries, the well stocked gift shop and the theater. There were also accessible restrooms in the back.

Our visit began with an excellent film about the Bear Dance, which is a sacred ritual to the Ute. This dance lasts three days and dates back to the 1300s. It ends when somebody falls down in the endurance dance on the last day. The rest of the museum is filled with artifacts from Chief Ouray, who was chosen by the U.S to head the Ute nation in 1868; and it includes a timeline that illustrates the history of the Ute. Out back there is a beautiful park with accessible pathways. It features a monument to Chief Ouray and his second wife Chipeta, as well as Chipeta’s grave. It’s a very peaceful site, and the park is filled with mature trees. My only regret was that I didn’t bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the picnic tables. All in all, this unique museum was a great find.

Access is sketchy at the Museum of the American West

The same can’t be said for the Museum of the American West, which is also located in Montrose. Apparently this museum is a collection of historic buildings which were moved to the site, as well as a newly constructed structure which houses recreations of old storefronts. You can’t tour the site on your own, as it’s all done on a two-hour tour. So I decided to pop in and find out how much of the tour is accessible After all, many historic sites, like Mount Vernon, Colonial Williamsburg and the Gettysburg Battlefield offer access to at least a portion of their sites, so historic doesn’t necessarily mean inaccessible. Sadly that doesn’t appear to be the case at the Museum of the American West.

The problems began  in the gravel-covered parking lot. Although there is an accessible parking sign, there is not an accessible pathway to the museum building. There is a wide doorway with level access to the building, but once inside there are no directions of where to go for admission. I assume it’s the gift shop, but nobody was there, so I wandered around until I found a group of men sitting in the saloon. Things went downhill from there.

When I inquired about access, one man just laughed at me and said “This is a recreation of an 1840s -1850s town and there wasn’t access back then.” OK, I should have left at that moment, but I wanted to give him another chance, so I continued that line of questioning. I explained that I just wanted to tell my readers, what portions of the attraction they could access, and asked him what he would tell a wheelchair-user if they showed up and inquired about access. Well, he said, “The only person that can answer that question is having a colonoscopy today.” And then he got all bug-eyed and said “Where’s your companion (Charles)? He can’t be just wandering around in here by himself.” At that point I told him Charles was probably out at the car, as there just wasn’t a story here. And I thought, well if you don’t want people wandering around in here, then perhaps you should be at your station in the gift shop, and not back in the saloon. But I bit my tongue instead.

The bottom line is, although it looks like they could make some simple access modifications, (like accessible pathways) it looks like that isn’t going to happen. Suffice it to say that I felt very unwelcome there, and don’t recommend it for anyone with access issues. After all, there are many other accessible things to see in Montrose, so save your $10. Pass the word.

The moral of the story is, sometimes you have to crack more than a few eggs to make a good omelet. And today was definitely a day of egg-cracking.