Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mesa Verde National Park

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I’d been wanting to visit this national park for a long time but this area of the country is far from any major Interstate, so you really need to make it a destination unto itself.

At the start of the day, I thought the park seemed a bit overpriced and underwhelming compared to other major national parks.  There was a $15 admission charge to get in, a 45-minute drive up to the mesa top before you started to see anything, and you had to go to the Visitor’s Center to buy additional tour tickets if you wished to see any of the cliff houses up close.  Man, you really have to want to see this park!

But by the end of the day, I was exhausted and exhilarated. It was a very unique, historical, and captivating place.  Certainly worth it’s price and it’s national park designation.
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Driving to the cliff houses on top of the mesa, there were a number of areas where fire had consumed the evergreen fir trees.  It made for an interesting landscape:
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Most of the cliff houses were located a few hundred feet below the mesa.  This is the biggest one—Cliff Palace. I signed up for a tour of this for the end of the day.
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In the meantime, I headed to Spruce Tree House, the one cliff house available to self-guided tours.  After a pretty steep path down into the canyon, you crossed a small bridge and creek to walk back up to the cliff house.  Even though there were tons of visitors, the rangers guarding the site made sure that everyone stayed on the safe viewing platforms and walkways to not cause any harm to the dwellings themselves.  As one ranger told us “think of this as your 800-year-old grandmother and handle her gently!”
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Not only are the adobe bricks original, but so is most of the wood.  Amazing!

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At Spruce, there’s one underground room available for visitors to explore. As I was waiting to get a good shot of the ladder by itself (1st photo above), I had fun watching all the kids play who had come down into the little room with me!
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After enjoying the coolness of the underground room, it was time to hike a few hundred feet back up the canyon….ugh!  Afternoon temps were in the 90’s and a far cry from the cool mountain temps of the Alpine Loop at 12,000 feet!   But I finally made it back to my car and on over to Cliff Palace in time for my tour.
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Our ranger, Marianna, was fun and educational.
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She told us that the Ancestral Puebloans built Cliff Palace around 1200 AD.  It was the largest of the nearly 600 cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde.  The Puebloans farmed the land on top of the mesa.  There are many theories as to why they built their houses beneath the mesa— safety from predators and other tribes, better insulation from temperature extremes, water storage in the rocks, and the ability to keep as much land on the mesa top available for farming.  They believe drought and stories of more easily farmable land along the Rio Grande valley a few hundred miles east led the Puebloans to finally abandon the cliff dwellings.

Even with our modern conveniences of stairs and ladders, these dwellings were quite a challenge to get to and from!  Can’t imagine the hardships of living here.
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There was a great sunset and full moon rising as I drove out of the park to head back to the RV.  Capped off by a neat thunderstorm in the distance.  Great way to end a great day!
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6 comments:

  1. Lynne...thanks for the comments on my blog. I went back to your April post and I wish I had that couch. I forgot to call the dealer today but I will tomorrow. Do you know the width? I think I'd be more inclined to keep my View if I could sleep on a couch like you have. The couch I have folds out with an inflatable mattress. The mattress is very uncomfortable and the frame is at an angle so I have a choice of sleeping with my feet higher than my head, or vice versa. Not good choices and not comfortable at all.

    I have a second vehicle, a Volvo SUV, and it's too heavy for a toad with a View. If I decide full-timing is what I want then I'll probably look for a Class A big enough to pull my SUV. A toad for the View would probably be the least expensive way to go, though!!

    Your pictures on this post are wonderful. Some of them make the buildings look like toy houses. I really like the last picture with the rain falling.

    I picked up a Senior Pass recently when I was in Las Vegas and if I read it correctly I think I could get into this park for free.

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  2. One of my all-time favorite National Parks. Go back again some day and explore the mesa top, where there are fascinating above ground dwellings and temples. I visited just this Spring and did Spruce Tree and Cliff Palace myself, and I was proud that this time - at 50 - it was actually easier for me than the last few times. Last year I didn't even go down to any dwellings I was so out of shape. (Yes, I've been there several times - 5 I believe.)

    Thanks for the great photos! Oh, and if you like ancient dwellings, the very very rough drive to Chaco Canyon is worth it and then some!

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  3. Jeana-- I just sent you an email (hope you got it!). Julie-- thanks for the suggestions. I turn 50 next year, so here's hoping those climbs out of the canyons will be easier next time! I had also bought a tour pass for Balcony House but chickened out after reading the description of the hike ("must pass thru 12ft tunnel 18" wide"....um, nah, I think I'll do Spruce House instead!).

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  4. Lost you for awhile. Blogger drives me crazy.
    What a great place. You pictures are fantastic. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Lynn (and others),

    In 2009, Jo and I and her sister and brother-in-law did a whole day at Mesa Verde. You really need to see it all. Square Tower is awesome. As for climbing out of Spruce Tower, the four of us did it OK. All but Jo were over 63 at the time. I am overweight and the other three have had heart troubles in the past.

    Take water and take your time. Besides, waiting a bit to rest lets you take more photos. I took more than 580 photos that day.

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  6. Lynne (and others),

    In 2009, Jo and I and her sister and brother-in-law did a whole day at Mesa Verde. You really need to see it all. Square Tower is awesome.

    As for climbing out of Spruce Tower, the four of us did it OK. All but Jo were over 63 at the time. I am overweight and the other three have had heart troubles in the past. I remember thinking and wondering (after seeing that trail) that I might need to help all three of them out.

    Take water and take your time. Besides, waiting a bit to rest lets you take more photos. I took more than 580 photos that day.

    ReplyDelete

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