Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

 


May 30-June 1, 2014

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Friday, May 30

It took 4 1/2 hours to drive to Mesa Verde National Park from Albuquerque. Leaving our house at 6am, we arrived before lunch, stopped at the Welcome station to buy tour tickets, the drove into the park. The campground is just a few miles from the gate, so we were able to pick out a campsite, pay, and setup our camper in no time. The campground is quite large, 200+ campsites in several loops. The first loop is tent only. The other loops are mixed both camper and tent however most people were in campers. Our popup camper fit perfectly on the site we chose, #184 in the Ute Loop.

After setting up the camper and eating our sandwiches we had packed for the trip, we grabbed the cameras and snacks then drove to our first tour - Long House. Long House is out on the Wetherill Mesa and almost an hour drive from the campground on a winding road with fabulous views. We had purchased tickets ($4 per person) for the Ranger-led tour at 3pm. Arriving at the site at 1:45pm, we asked if we could switch to the 2pm tour. The tour desk was manned by two Rangers, one of which was leading the 2pm tour. He said he thought it was no problem joining him as there were less than a dozen signed up. Awesome! At 2pm we boarded the tram, along with a few others from the 3pm tour who had also arrived early. It was nice having only 12 people on the tour with our Ranger!

The tram took us out to the Long House location where for 90 minutes our Ranger walked us through the site, bombarding us with the fascinating history as well as encouraging questions. It was a very informative tour and everyone in the group was able to ask questions and get them answered.

LONG HOUSE

After touring Long House, we boarded the tram to continue the loop around the other sites on Wetherill Mesa. The tram stopped at several overlooks to let everyone off for quick view and photos, then continued on. We also got to see some wild horses that live on the Mesa including two cute little colts. We arrived back at the kiosk parking lot at 4:30pm and decided to drive back to the campground for the evening. After dinner, we drove around the campground checking out all the other camp sites and mule deer were out having their evening meal. We counted over a dozen deer, some does but also some nice sized bucks with velvet. Really cool.


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Saturday, May 31

Up with the sun, we quickly cooked pancakes and eggs for breakfast, washed dishes and got ready for our busy day. We had bought tickets for the 9am tour of Cliff Palace and needed to leave by 8am from the campground. Since we were up so early, we actually arrived before 8am at Chapin Mesa. The museum opened at 8am so we decided to do a quick tour through it before heading to the meeting point for the tour. The museum is quite large and has a fantastic display of all facets of the civilization that enhabited Mesa Verde through the ages. We spent 30 minutes walking around enjoying the information before leaving for our short drive to Cliff Palace.

At Cliff Palace we met with the Ranger and maybe 20 other people for the 9am tour. At the overlook, the Ranger started our 60 minute tour. After 10 minutes describing policies of the park with everyone, we ventured through a locked gate down to some steep winding stairs to the site. Wow. Once again, as with Long House, the actual ruins take your breath away! Much larger than any photo can show, these were truly full villages that supported 100+ people.

CLIFF PALACE

After the tour, we got back in our truck and continued on around the Mesa to view all the "self-guided" ruins. We stopped at every overlook or display. We also drove around Mesa Loop, another section of the Chapin Mesa area which had displays of the much earlier villages of the Puebloan people. Numerous digs are covered showing foundations of the pit houses and small villages where the people lived on TOP of the Mesa before moving down into the caves.

At a little after noon, we arrived back at the musueum cafe to eat lunch. Next we walked over to the trail for Spruce Tree House and headed down. The cliff dwelling is just behind the museum and is self-guided. The trail winds back and forth in steep switchbacks arriving at the site. Not only is the site open to walk around and check out, but a hands-on display of the grinding stones is there and the Ranger had kids sit and try to use them. Also, a kiva with ladder in the center of the site is there for exploration. Ron headed down into the kiva for a few photos.

SPRUCE TREE HOUSE

We then headed back towards the campground, stopping at several other villages, including the large area known as the Far View sites. These small villages were along the Mesa top and were farming communities pre-dating the cliff dwelling era. By this time the temps were in the upper 80s, so we stopped at the Farview Terace cafe for ice cream and a bit of shopping.

We arrived back at the campground, grabbed clean clothes, our shower supplies, and headed to the shower facilities next to the camp store. Showers are free and after hiking around in the sun for 5+ hours, we both needed to clean up. The water is not hot, but it was enough to refresh us both. Afterwards, we bought a few snacks and adult beverages at the camp store, then back to the campsite to relax.

It was a very hectic day, so fixed a hearty dinner and watched the mule deer wandering around the park again. The campground had been maybe 1/4 full on Friday night but by this time on Saturday it appeared to be at least half full. Some sites were used often it appeared while others looked like they had not been used in months having tall grass growing up in the parking spot. Before you pick a camp spot, definitely drive around the loops and choose the best site for your needs as some sites were fabulous and some were marginal at best.


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Sunday, June 1

Since we had already visited most of the park in the previous two days, we decided to leave early and drive home. We were packing up our camper to leave by the time we saw most other campers just rolling out of bed. At 7am we pulled out of the park and started our 4 1/2 hour drive back to Albuquerque.

Notes:

We loved our trip to Mesa Verde! Weather was quite warm out of the Mesas, so plan to bring lots of water, hats and sunscreen as well as good shoes. Do not expect to climb ladders and hike around in flipflops (yes, we saw this!).

Buy the tickets for the tours at the Welcome station as you enter the park or at the Museum before you show up at the tour entry. Long House and Cliff Palace are both huge sites and the Rangers are very informative but the larger the group, the less information you may get. The Rangers do their best, but there are always people who try to climb on the structure or lean on walls which is not allowed.

Balcony House is also a Ranger led tour but probably best for families with kids. The tours goes up a 30' ladder, through narrow tunnels and not for those with any physical limitations or fears. Kids love it, older adults may not.

Spruce Tree House and Step House are self-guided tours meaning you hike to them, then a Ranger or two are standing in the ruins to answer questions. Once again, the Rangers are there to protect the ruins as well as give information.