Cliff Dwellings All Day with a side of twisty road

Trip Start Jun 01, 2011
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Trip End Jul 31, 2011


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Where I stayed
Mesa Verde RV Resort Mancos
Read my review - 5/5 stars
What I did
Tour the Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

Flag of United States  , Colorado
Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Today we are going to do a major national park in one day. Sounds crazy but I think we can do it. But it will be a very busy and tiring day. We have reservations for three ranger led one and a half hour tours today: 10:00, 3:00, & 7:00. So they should be spread out enough to do all of them.

The 10:00 tour was way at the far end of the park at the end of the Wetherill Mesa Road. Lucky for us our campground is only a half a mile from the entrance. The total distance to this point is just a little less than 30 miles which is not too bad. That is until you drive the roads in the park. I don't think there is a single straight road in the park until you pass the VC on Chapin mesa. Our route this morning is all curves and hills. Being in the morning I felt pretty fresh so the drive was not too bad. The first four miles is the hardest as your going straight up the mesa. After four miles you reach the campground area and then you have a sorta easy road through a cool tunnel – no lights inside so don’t wear sunglasses – for a mile or so. Then the fun starts again with the zigzag roads to the VC. Since we already hit the VC yesterday, we went right past and took a right onto the Wetherill Mesa road which was far crazier than the one coming up here. Now the road was a little smaller with more twists and turns. But it was morning so it was OK. Lucky for us there were hardly any other people on the road so we could go our own speed. We got to the road at 9:10 and they only open the road at 9:00. This area only gets 10% of all the visitors to the park which is what I like to hear. Much of the forest in the area was burned out 10 years ago so there was nothing but the charred remains of these trees – made for an interesting landscape.

Due to the fact that we did not get behind anybody slow, we got to the parking lot of the Long House with 15 min. to spare. And we were not the first ones here – about 15 beat us to the punch. We had a group of 25, or so, on the tour with us. Our ranger was an older guy but had a ton of information and told us like it was – no politically correct stuff that the younger rangers will tell us. To keep the cars down, we took a tram to the entrance of Long House. The whole walk for this one and a half hour tour was only 1 mile. But the ranger stopped us in a few places to talk about why the Native Americans moved from the mesa top to build these cliff dwellings and only stay there for less than 100 years. His version was environmental collapse which makes sense. He was so good that the hour and a half went by so fast. That’s what makes a good teacher. I’ve noticed that most of the National Park rangers would make good teachers. After the tour we came back up on our own to catch the shuttle back to the parking lot.

The shuttle went further into the park but I did not think we had the time to see it all since we had two other tours today. We did visit Step House which was another cliff dwelling community just a short distance from the parking lot. The trail was steep down and up but only a half mile in length. On the way up from Step House we ran into a wild heard of horses. There was about 50 of them going at a good speed to do some damage. I shot a short film on it as we hid behind a burnt out tree. As the horses saw the other people on the trail they slowed down and started to turn around. One horse did not see us and got within feet of us before getting a shock and turning around with a puff of dust. Our ranger on the Long House then did his best to shoo them away – old tough guy. But about 5 min. later, as we were leaving in the truck, we saw the same band of horses trying to make their way through the path.

It was now almost 12:30 and we drove back 28 miles to the RV to take care of the dog and to eat some lunch. We had to do this quickly to drive to our 3:00 tour which meant we had to drive back 20 something miles to get there. The drive to the main part of the park is not as bad as the Wetherill Mesa Rd. After the VC the road is not as curvy. Our 3:00 tour was of Balcony House and we got there with only a few min. to spare. Our guides’ name was Scott so I knew he was going to be pretty good. He had that sarcastic sense of humor and pretended that we were walking into another world.

The Balcony House was my favorite because of how hard it was to go around the place. The first ladder was almost 50 feet tall – I just recently got over my major fear of ladders, but I still don’t care for them (never wanted to be a fireman). This was the only way to get into the house. Then inside, we had to go though some very tight tunnels which made me feel that I really need to knock off a few pounds. My camera, which I had hooked on my belt, had to be taken off just to get through. Pooh, of course, made it through in a snap with no problem. She wished she had seen me stuck. Then coming back up to the top of the mesa, you had to go up a series of three ladders and then a climb up a 70% sick rock with hand carved steps – these steps were not meant for shoe sizes above a 10. It did have a chain on the side which I gladly used.

After Balcony House we drove a short distance to the Spruce Tree area which had another cliff dwelling and the HQ for the National Park. They had a nice shop, a cafeteria, and a museum here. Good place to spend the next two and a half hours. Pooh got a coffee and sat in the cafeteria while I ran off to the museum – she does not really like them. The building was the cool part about this – it was built in a traditional Spanish Pueblo style. Inside were dioramas about how these places were built and it had many artifacts on every aspect of Native culture. The film hall was very well adorned with Native American art and built like a Native American style lodge. After 45 min. here, Pooh and I took the self-guided tour of the Spruce Tree House. The trail took you inside an intact forest – rare in these parts since almost everything has burned over the last decade. Even though it was very hot, this was a cool place in the shade. The Cliff House was like all the rest. We did pepper the ranger with a few questions, of which she answered almost all of them – they are so intelligent about the places they represent. After this house we came back to the cafeteria to have some dinner – I had a SW Chicken Wrap and Pooh and the SW Salad, both of which were very good. We sat outside on a really nice veranda with some shade trees. We had another hour to kill, so we just hung out there after we finished our meal and did some reading. It would have been perfect except for the beer swilling cowboys who were one section over from us. This one guy told story after story to his crew – but he was so loud and irritating. I mean who drinks a ton of beers at a National Park. DUH!!!

Just before 7:00 we drove the short distance to Cliff Palace to meet our Historical Guide. I paid a little more money for this tour since it was a smaller group and it would be done by a ranger in period form. The Ranger played the part of the woman who really pushed for this place to become a National Park over 100 years ago. She pretended it was the early 1900s and how she discovered this place and what she did to help it out. Besides that, she gave the standard fare on the whole Cliff Palace thing. This is the largest of the cliff dwellings but by this time they were all starting to look the same. At least the ranger kept it going nicely. Our favorite part was watching these birds swoop up and down and inside their little house between two rocks high above the Cliff Palace. They looked like diver bombers when they came out and made lots of noise too.

When the tour ended at 8:30, Pooh and I were pooped. And I still had this 45 min. drive in the dark on these roads. And when we got back to the RV I still needed to go into Cortez to get some diesel and go to the grocery store. It only took 15 min. to get into town. And I got 20 cents off a gallon by using my Kroger Card – score!!! The grocery store had some of the best and cheapest produce I’ve ever had. The shopping was great as hardly anyone was there. By the time I made it back to the RV I was really done for and had to get up early the next morning to catch a train.

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