Friday, July 28, 2017

Mesa Verde National Park

Posted from Ignacio, CO

When we booked our stay at Mesa Verde RV Resort Campground for TWO full weeks I was a bit "nervous" that we wouldn't have enough to see in the area. After all, the main attraction in the area is Mesa Verde National Park and it didn't look to be one of the larger parks. All I can say is I was wrong!

When we arrive in a new area (or park) we head first to the Visitor's Center to pick up maps and plan our visit. The close proximity of our campground was a major plus during our visitations to the park. We were located within a 1/2 mile from the Visitor's Center. Mesa Verde NP's attractions are generally located in the far end of the park from the Visitor's Center. There are two main areas of concentration, one on the Chapin Mesa and the other on the Wetherill Mesa. From the Visitor's Center to Chapin Mesa is approximately 23 miles and it's approximately 27 miles to the Wetherill Mesa area. Because of the very winding and hilly drives to both plan on at least an hour to reach each area from the Visitor's Center.

This is an overview map of the park showing the Chapin and Wetherill Mesas relationship to the Visitor's Center.
(Map Courtesy of NPS)
This blog entry is going to take a somewhat different reporting approach because we visited the Park on 5 different days and hiked, picnicked, took tour ranger-guided tours, and visited stationary displays.  Rather than creating a VERY lengthy blog with tons of pictures I decided to keep the pictures to a minimum and create links to our blog albums for those who wish to see more.

The map below has different areas we visited as shown by BLUE NUMBERS. These numbers indicate the chronology of our visit and the following blog will correspond to these numbers. At the beginning of each "section" I will list a photo link should anyone wish to view additional photos.
(Map Courtesy of NPS)
Click on Map to Enlarge


As stated above, we always make the Visitor's Center our first stop. 

On this particular day, after picking up maps and reserving tickets to the Cliff Palace Tour, we also made the drive from the entrance gate to the Chapin Mesa area. We made a stop along the way at Park Point Overlook. This is the highest point in the park at 8572 feet and is used as a fire lookout station.  

There have been many fires in this park thru the years and the view from here is gorgeous.

The second day in the Park we decided to take a ranger-guided tour of Cliff Palace. The pictures of Cliff Palace are associated more with Mesa Verde NP than any other in the Park.  Cliff Palace is the largest of the cliff dwelling communities in Mesa Verde NP.

Several of the cliff dwellings can only be viewed when accompanied by a ranger. The fee for these tours is $5 (and well worth the cost). This particular tour is considered one of the easiest and includes two fifteen foot ladders to climb. Karen is not really happy to climb ladders and crawl thru tunnels, but this tour was very doable for her. 

This is an example of a Kiva, a structure common to many of the sites we visited. When used as structures, logs are placed on the vertical stone pillars and a roof is constructed. A ladder is placed in the center of the roof and creates the entry and exit point for the Kiva.

After visiting Cliff Palace, we drove down the road a short bit and followed a sign for Fry Bread. This area is just outside the boundary of the Park, and on the Ute Indian Reservation. Fry Bread is similar to a Funnel Cake, although a bit lighter in consistency. We sprinkled a bit of confectioner's sugar and honey on top to create a very tasty treat.

Our goal on another day was to visit the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and to hike the Petroglyph Trail. The trail is listed as "moderate" in difficulty and is a 2.4 mile loop. I believe it's closer to 3 miles, but still very enjoyable. Like most of the trails, steps were created years again by the CCC to assist in navigation.

Of course, one of the benefits of hiking these trails are being able to view the surrounding canyons.

The largest wall of petroglyphs in this park are viewed on the hike.  

Near the end of the hike, the only current view of Spruce Tree House is possible.  These dwellings are currently closed to visitors as the rock cliffs above the structures are crumbling.

Here's a bit closer photo of Spruce Tree House.

We completed this day with a quick visit to the Far View Sites. This area of construction belonged to the period around 1000 A.D. The cliff dwellings, by contrast, were constructed later than these dwellings which were built up on the flat Wetherill Mesa. 

This trail on the Wetherill Mesa is reached by taking a VERY windy road. It's approximately 12 miles from the turn off near the Far View Lodge. There is a Wetherill Mesa information kiosk near the beginning of the trail. Step House is in the middle of a short hike and is self-guided (although there is a ranger at the structure to answer questions). After descending a series of metal steps, the complex comes into view. 

A partial reconstruction of a "pit house" can be seen at Step House.
This style of house is believed to have been originally constructed around 620 A.D. and was later used alongside the pueblo-styled buildings constructed 100s of years later.

Just a single ladder to climb here, but quite doable.

Beginning again at the Wetherill Information Kiosk, we trekked toward the Badger House Community.  The hike is probably 2 miles in length and is relatively flat. This community depicts archaeological finds thru 600 years of occupation from the first pit houses around 550-600 A.D. 

The construction evolved to single story villages around 750 A.D. The single-stoned exterior walls give us a clue that these were single story.

Next came the multi-story buildings around 1100 A.D.

Finally, a small percentage of the population moved to the cliff dwellings in the alcoves of the surrounding canyons. This occurred sometime around 1200 A.D., but most of these dwellers moved from the area around 1275 A.D.  Fires have continued to strike the Wetherill and Chapin Mesa areas throughout the years.

We wrapped up this day by hiking a short 1 mile trail named the Nordenskiold #16. Gustav Nordenskiold was a Swedish photographer and geologist who photographed many archaeological sites as shown to him by the Wetherill family. This site was labeled as #16. The site can only be viewed by visitors from a viewpoint across the canyon at the end of this trail.

A closer view of the structures.

This little guy was standing guard near the viewpoint.

On our last day to visit the Park, I believe we saved the best tours. Long House Tour is ranger guided, but the groups are much smaller and more time is spent down in the actual cliff dwelling. The hike to the site begins at the Wetherill Info. Kiosk and follows a paved road to the entrance. The hike is approximately 2.25 miles round trip and takes about 2 hours (including the tour of Long House).

Long House is the second largest cliff dwelling in the Park at 150 rooms and 21 kivas. This was our first glimpse as we hiked down the steps.

This tour was different also, because you were able to climb a couple of 15-foot ladders and view an upper level of the dwellings.

Here's a view looking down into one of the kivas.

Evidence of water seeping through the rock to provide a source of water to the cliff dwellers.

Jeanette, our NPS Ranger, allowed us to take our time looking thru the dwelling and was a wealth of knowledge on the subject.  Actually, all of the guides throughout our entire park stay were excellent!

Balcony House Tour was again a ranger led tour. I was left alone to take this tour as Karen is not a big fan of tall ladders and narrow tunnels. This tour is billed as the "Most Adventurous Cliff Dwelling Tour" by the NPS. During the tour you must be able to climb a 32-foot ladder, crawl thru an 18-inch wide by 12-foot tunnel, and climb up a 60-foot open cliff face with stone steps (and cable railings on each side), and finally climb two 10-feet ladders to make an exit.

Here is Ranger Jack giving us an introduction to Balcony House and "warning" those who might not want to continue given the constraints outlined above. 

No one in our group chose to drop out, so here's the first ladder to enter the dwelling.

Here's a view from the top of the ladder. Yes, it really is that steep.

This cliff dwelling is somewhat unique as balconies were built along the walkways which gave fantastic views of the canyon below.

Here's a view of one of our group exiting thru the narrow tunnel. This was also the same way in which the ancient cliff dwellers exited their dwelling to climb to the flat mesas above.

I can't imagine scrambling up this cliff face with only foot and toe holds while carrying provisions along the way. Today, the cables are a great aid!

One more ladder and you're at the top!  This was truly a great tour. It did get the blood pumping a bit. I won't lie!

Well, that's it for our visit to Mesa Verde NP. If you've managed to stay with me to this point, thank you. We really enjoyed exploring the park.  There was definitely much more to see and do than we had initially envisioned. This park is a bit different from many other of our National Parks because it deals with the humankind struggles and evolution, rather than just the natural beauty. If you can't tell by now, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit and would recommend this park to those who have not yet been able to visit.

(Don't forget to click on the numbered link at the beginning of each section. This will take you to many, many more photos on that area of the park.)

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!


  1. You guys took full advantage of that area!! The side hill climb at the Balcony House sort of freaked me out, the rest was ok LOL!!

    Dave & Diane

    1. Karen was content to view the pictures later on that one.

  2. Great write up and excellent pictures. Love the views from the top of the ladder climbs. Dave n I only had time to do the Long House and Balcony House. Now I see what we missed and need to return.

    Diane & Dave

    1. There was a lot more in the Park to see and do than we had anticipated.

  3. Yes it is a great park and one we need to revisit soon, maybe next year as we venture back west

  4. Great summary of your visit ... those ladders remind me of the ones I had to climb when I visited Cappadocia a few years ago ... some weren't for the faint of heart.