The Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado

daveutah

I know it’s been awhile since I posted the additional blog posts from our cross country road trip back in July. I shouldn’t have excuses, but life has very much come into full swing. My plate is full. But I’m going to scoop more onto it and hope I can finish this series before the new year. 

Mesa Verde National Park is and was probably one of my favorites of our trip simply because of the factual history right in your face. There was no denying the sandstone that you were walking on/through was over 700 years old. And the tiny walkways and rooms in the cliff structures used to be home to up to 50 people at one point. And here I was. Standing in it. Present day. 

Writing this today and remembering the fond details of Mesa Verde almost has me bursting into tears because I cannot believe we made that day possible. I can’t believe the entire road trip. It’s so far into my past now I just wish I could grab it from my past and live it once again!

We arrived at Mesa Verde pretty early in the morning on July 14th. It had to have been around 2am in the morning. We drove all afternoon, evening and night from Zion National Park. From Zion it was about 5 hours, not including stops. The drive was pretty scary at some points because of this raging storm that lurked in from the far corners of the sky. I remember seeing the entire sky towards my left engulfed by black clouds and eventually the black was in front of us.  At this moment we were already in the middle of no where in Utah. I feared us getting into some troubled weather, stranded, and no cell service. To make matters worse, all traffic was driving in opposite direction of us. I felt like there some crucial information we were missing and maybe we shouldn’t be driving toward this storm. It got darker out, quick. Dave could tell I was getting nervous. The rain started and the lightening flashed. But, to our relief, it seemed that the harsh weather stayed pretty far from us. We only received the rain and lightning from the outskirts of the storm. 

utahstorm

utahstorm

utahstorm

After several hours later, we ended up in a small town somewhere near the famous 4 corners (Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico). At this point I had a very bad stomach ache. I tried to eat something at our stop, but it didn’t help. We stopped at several gas stations looking for mint tea (because that always seems to help soothe my stomach) but no luck. They only had Tums, which I tried and that didn’t work either. I ended up laying in the back seat while Dave drove so I could try to shake this ache. 

After sometime later we finally ended up in Cortez, Colorado. We knew Mesa Verde National Park was pretty close. About a half an hour later, we found another gas station by the entrance to the park and my luck had changed! They had mint tea! After sipping that down I could feel the warmth take over my body and I did indeed start to feel remotely better. 

Through all the darkness we finally arrived to the entrance of Mesa Verde National Park. We were able to skip the park entrance fee, because well, there was no one there. Luckily, they had brochures available outside of the welcome kiosk so we could take a better look at the long half an hour drive to our lodge in the middle of the park!

We began the drive through the park, it was pretty scary because the roads were so narrow and very curvy, walls of mountains to one side of us filled with falling rock, the opposite side looked like a complete drop off, and you could barely see anything in front of you. Even though we had no service on our phones, it was still very useful to have Google maps open on my phone so we could see if any sharp turns were approaching. We didn’t need surprises. Although we did have a HUGE owl fly right in front of us at one point. It’s wings spanned so far out, I felt like it was the width of the car! Pretty cool and surprising! We knew were climbing elevation, but couldn’t physically see how high up we were. In fact, our lodge was about 7,000ft above sea level… I think. 

There was a moment when we saw a pull off area and you could see the town we were just in from up above and all the tiny lights shining in the night. That’s when we realized we were pretty high up at that point. And we still had a way to go!

Checking into Far View Lodge was easy, there was no one there besides a desk clerk. Once we were all checked in, she verbally directed us to our room. We parked, unpacked, dragged our exhausted asses to the room, opened the door, threw everything down and pretty much went right to bed. We had to be up the next morning pretty early to grab some tickets to Cliff Palace (the largest cliff dwelling in the park and in North America!) 

farviewlodge

8am came quick the next morning and hearing our alarm go off was nothing exciting until we realized where we freakin’ were! We woke up to a beautiful view of the valley. Apparently, all 4 states are visible from our lodge, hence the name, Far View……..although I couldn’t tell which was what, it was still a cool fact to know! Before getting ready for the day, I stepped out on our balcony and just inhaled the chilled morning air in my lungs. Being at Mesa was so incredibly refreshing on so many different levels.

farviewlodge

After some quick showers and packing up we checked out of the hotel and went to find us some tickets to these fantastic cliff dwellings! The only location on site that sold the tickets was at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum which was only a few miles from the lodge. Parking was insane, so I had Dave drop me off at the entrance, thinking it should only take a few minutes to get some tickets and then we would be on the way! 

I was greeted by the park ranger at the counter and politely asked her for 2 tickets to the Cliff Palace. She checked her computer and only had tickets available for 4pm. Not a big deal normally, but we were on a tight schedule! We needed to be on the way to Denver by 11am! I stood there puzzled for a moment and looked over to see Dave walking in. While I was letting Dave know of the situation, the park ranger was checking her computer again, and to our surprise….. told us she had 2 tickets for the Balcony House in just a half an hour! The last 2 tickets! SOLD SOLD SOLD! I didn’t care which tour we had at this point, I just wanted a cliff dwelling tour! Tickets were only $4 per person! That was such an exciting moment for us. 

Location and size differentiate one cliff dwelling from another. Most of the cliff dwellings from my understanding, ranged from only a couple of rooms each to 100s, which also included subterranean kivas. The biggest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde is called Cliff Palace and it has over 150 rooms. (Some of these rooms were about 6ft to 8ft) Archeologists believe this dwelling in particular was the marketplace for trade because of its size and artifacts found. Cliff Palace was the dwelling that I wanted to see the most.

cliffpalace

Cliff Palace

cliffpalace

Cliff Palace

The one that we actually visited was called Balcony House and it had about 40 rooms. We had to climb up a 32ft entrance ladder and exit through a very small tunnel! Very adventurous, very fun! I’m glad we were able to experience the Balcony House!

The Ancestral Puebloans, or Anasazi people, lived in Mesa Verde for about 700 years over 1,400 years ago. The last 100 years of living in Mesa, before migration, they lived in the cliff dwellings. Before that, they lived on the mesa top sites which was where they also farmed the land and lived in pit houses. In the late 1200s they moved away, over a span of several generations, to what is now New Mexico and Arizona. In the 1300s, Mesa Verde was deserted. It’s believed they moved away because of drought, supplies were depleted and they were searching for more opportunities elsewhere.

After we left the museum, we made our way to Balcony House! This was pretty easy to find just by following the signs throughout the park. Once we found the general area, we were able to park the car and walk up to the entrance of the cliff dwelling where we would wait for the ranger. From the museum, the cliff dwelling was only about a 15 minute drive, but from the entrance of the park, it was about an hour deep into the park! While waiting for our ranger at the top site, Dave and I took in the entire picturesque view of Soda Canyon.

sodacanyon

We also listened to the exciting chatter from other explorers waiting to see the incredible history waiting below us! (FYI: This is a ranger guided tour only, you cannot go into this dwelling without one. You can only purchase tickets at select locations! And as I said earlier they do sell out! I had no idea!) When our ranger arrived he gave us his what seemed like usual, safety speech and just some fun cool facts before we headed down the descending 100ft path to the cliff dwelling! It’s a bit of a curvy down hill walk, mixed with the some stairs and then you are greeted by the 32ft ladder to the dwelling! By the way, Dave was more terrified than me. I just want to put that out there, haha. I honestly just climbed that ladder like a boss and didn’t look down! No big deal though, it was only about a 600ft fall to the bottom of the canyon. When we reached the top of the ladder, we had to walk through this tiny, some what dark crevice that had another small ladder at the end. Once you climb up the tiny 6 step ladder, you’ve made it into the dwelling! 

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mesaverde

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balconyhouse

Prepare to be amazed and mind blown when you step into the dwelling. The stone work these ancestral people did was just freakin’ amazing! The entire place is pretty impressive! We were able to explore little areas at a time and the park ranger give a little history lesson in each area! I’ll let the rest of my pictures do the talking.

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balconyhouse

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When it was time to leave we had to crawl through a 12 foot, 18in wide tunnel and then climb up another decently sized ladder! It was maybe 20ft? The ladder then led to a series of stone steps on the side of the mountain ! What an adventure for sure. We learned that the exit we took was actually the only entrance/exit back when the Pueblo people lived in the dwelling. They climbed down the side of the mountain and into that same small tunnel that we just crawled out of. Having this as the only entrance and exit acted as security. If an intruder came into the dwelling through the tunnel, as soon as they peeped their head into the dwelling, someone could smash them in the head before they even landed one foot in the dwelling!

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There is so much history in Mesa Verde. Walking through this place was truly something else. It was such an amazing experience. Especially since who knows how long these structures will be around for. Of course Mesa Verde archeologists are doing the best they can to preserve these beautiful structures, but who knows what could happen! As I’m writing this I just learned that one of the dwellings will be closed due to falling rock. They do not have a re-opening date for this dwelling! It’s just mind blowing to believe that a place like this exists right in my own country! I’m so glad that we made this place a crucial stop on our road trip across the country!

cliffdwelling

Before leaving Mesa Verde, we decided to get a bite to eat in the Far View Terrace Restaurant. We also picked up a few magnets and other souvenirs from there as well! Then we were on our way to Denver, CO, which was just under 7 hours with no stops! Yippie do da day. 

When we entered the park the night before, it was pretty dark out, so because of that we missed a half an hours worth of epic scenery that I couldn’t wait to see on the way out of the park! (I love run-on sentences in case your wondering!) As we passed our hotel for the last time and waved goodbye, we were finally able to see the entire landscape from 7,000ft above sea level. It was crazy to see that the road we drove on the night before was so close to the edge of the mountain cliff. The drive was beautiful yet very nerve racking! It also felt like we were above the clouds because as soon as we dropped in elevation it started raining and became very foggy. 

I cannot say it enough, Mesa Verde National Park is quite an incredible place, and if you are visiting the area or even close to the area I highly recommend it! And stay for a few nights! Of course we would have loved to stay longer, but the purpose of our road trip was to get a “taste” of America, our homeland, before we venture off into other countries. If you can’t stay for long, at least take a pit stop in this park and try and enjoy one of the tours or at least the scenery!

-Alicia !

Some photos by Dave.

Some detailed information found on National Park Service.