Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mesa Verde National Park

Before we began planning this trip I have to confess that I had never even heard of Mesa Verde NationalPark. We saw it on the map, but not knowing much about it were going to bypass it until another teacher I work with mentioned how much she had enjoyed visiting there, so it was added to the list. I'm so glad we did! The park is located just outside of Durango, Colorado and is filled with ancient cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Pueblo people.

The Ancestral Puebloans first came to this area from the 4 corners region and from the site of the Aztec Ruins that we stopped and visited on our way here around the year 600. No one knows why they left and came here, and it is unknown why they abandoned this area nearly 700 years later, but while they were here they built elaborate cliff dwellings in the cave walls lining the canyons and farmed the land on top of the mesa's. Their descendants are still living and thriving in Pueblos along the Colorado River, making theirs one of the longest thriving civilizations in history.

Of the 600 cliff dwellings in the park, 3 are open for viewing. We started with a self guided tour of Spruce Tree House, the easiest dwelling to access on foot. There is a ½ mile round trip paved trail down a 100 foot descent into this cliff dwelling. An easy walk, this dwelling has 114 rooms and 8 Kiva's, round ceremonial chambers, built into the cliff. It is believed to have been home to about 100 people and has a Kiva you can climb down into by ladder, as the Ancestral Puebloans would have done while living there.

Ranger led tours of the other two dwellings, Balcony House and Cliff Palace are available by purchasing timed tickets. First we were off to Balcony House, which I later found out was the more challenging of the cliff dwelling tours. As these dwellings are built into the side of a cliff, they are not exactly easy to access. In fact you must climb a 32 foot ladder, attached to the side of the cliff, just to get into Balcony House. It's very wide and stable, but I still didn't look down.

Once inside, the view is amazing. The walls, built over a thousand years ago, are still true and straight. The tour is an hour longer and it flew by, there was so much to see! The rooms are laid out across the whole cave, with several Kiva's in between. This dwelling is divided in half and there is a tunnel, 18 inches wide and 12 feet long, to crawl through to get to the other side of the dwelling. After crawling through the tunnel there is a 60 foot climb along the open rock face which includes 2 ten foot ladders to exit the dwelling.

The park ranger who led out tour was fantastic, answered tons of questions and was great with the boys. We headed over to Cliff Palace for that tour, but unfortunately a late afternoon thunderstorm canceled the rest of the tours for the day. Luckily, Cliff Palace is visible from an overlook off the road, so we were still able to see quite a bit of it.

This stop was also our first experience with “dry camping.” We had reserved a spot right inside the park at the Morefield Campground. Although the spot had no hookups, it was beautiful. There were bathrooms nearby and laundry and showers just a short drive away. There was also an amphitheater we could walk to that hosts a ranger program each night. Since we were all settled in, we headed over to see what it was about. The evenings programs was about the wildlife that lives inside the park. Not surprising, Mesa Verde is home to bobcats, mountain lions, elk, mule deer, several species of birds and many lizards. We saw tons of mule deer, but no mountain lions while we were there. It's also home to several feral cattle and horses that have been abandoned or wandered into the park from nearby farms.

Just one last thought on driving in some of these areas of the country. The road into Mesa Verde is narrow, and pretty much travels up the side of the mountain. It was steep, and a bit of a nail biter to drive in such a large vehicle, but the husband has been a great driver, and we persevered. But all that break work we had done to the King before we left home was worth every penny!


  1. Sharon,
    Quite an adventure so far! So glad it's going well. Ive been thinking of you often in this heat--and after that big mid-west storm your first week out (glad it missed you!). The Picts and stories are great! Keep em coming! (and tell #2 son to smile once in awhile and uncross his rms in a photo or two. ;). ) zzzzz

  2. Ok, this is bizarre. I finally get to sit down and read thru and comment on your blog today...then I happen to mail in my mailbox that must have come late yesterday. What's in it? A postcard from YOU! How weird is that? And very sweet. Thanks for thinking of me! ZzzzzV

  3. Hi Lisa!! We've been thinking of you too and hope you're having a great summer. Look for more postcards as the weeks go by! See you in August!