Tag Archives: adventure

Southwest Colorado Adventures, Days 2-3: Mesa Verde

For the first part of this story, read this post

After lunch with my cousin and her boys in Bayfield and a quick stop for ice in Durango, we headed toward Mesa Verde. As we drove, green hillsides and winding roads greeted us, and then we saw the Mesa projecting above us, and we knew we’d arrived.

We started at the Visitor Center, where we bought our tour tickets for the next day and lingered a while, enjoying yet another stunning vista. Then, we drove up another winding road to Morefield Campground, the only campground in Mesa Verde National Park, where we checked in, then slowly circled, searching for an available spot with a decent bit of shade.

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Once we found a shady campsite, we set up camp, built a fire, and made dinner (this recipe — so good!). After we ate, did dishes, and drowned our fire, we headed over to the two-mile (round trip) Knife Edge trail, which the ranger at the VC had told us we had to hike at sunset. He was not wrong. All along the trail, the entire southwestern corner of Colorado — and beyond — is visible. Distant mountain ranges mark the horizon, smaller hills and mesas dot the landscape below, and unique geology lines the trail and the hills beyond. As the sun sank, its brilliant, then softening, light cast a glow over the entire valley, turning the rocks yellow, then orange, then pink.

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Knife Edge was a short and easy hike, but that view made it one of our favorites of all time. Neither my words nor my iPhone pictures can really do it justice.

We could have stayed at Knife Edge until the sun disappeared entirely, but we also wanted to catch a ranger program at the campground’s amphitheater, so we headed back down the trail as the light faded. The program was focussed on storytelling. It was just okay — the ranger was new and had some kinks to work out in her presentation — but it was fun, and stargazing as we headed back to our campsite and to bed was a perfect way to end a wonderful day.

The next morning, I was woken early by birdsong outside our tent. (Okay, I was woken by a full bladder, but then I heard the birds). When I got back from the bathroom, Jordan and I lay in bed –er, sleeping bags –and chatted until about 6:00, when I rolled out of bed and went for a 20-minute walk-run around the campground. Just down the hill from our campsite, I came upon five deer — four bucks and a doe — nonchalantly munching their breakfast beside the road. They were pretty tame, as National Park deer tend to be, and this one posed nicely for a picture before I headed on my way:

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He posed nicely, but apparently I can’t hold a camera still, so he’s all blurry.

When I returned from my little jog, we ate a quick breakfast, then headed out for another day of adventure, starting with a tour of Cliff Palace, the enormous dwelling that you probably picture when you think “Mesa Verde.” The ranger leading our tour was excellent, teaching us facts and theories about the history of Cliff Palace and its inhabitants.

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Jordan doing the Cliff Palace thing

After Cliff Palace, we drove over to Balcony House, billed as the “adventurous tour.” Of course, I can’t resist anything that claims to be adventurous, so I was really excited for this tour. We again had a delightful ranger leading the tour — he was knowledgeable, interesting, and funny. Even if he hadn’t been leading the tour, Balcony House would’ve been fascinating, sparking my imagination as I tried to picture how people had worked and lived there one thousand years ago. And the “adventurous” parts — the 32-foot ladder and narrow tunnel — were pretty fun, too.

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The remnants of what gives Balcony House its name (and a bunch of other tourists)

After Balcony House, we headed over to the Chapin Museum, where we refilled our waters and ate our usual vacation lunch of PBJs, sitting in the shade overlooking Spruce Tree House. This  was as close as we’d get to Spruce Tree this trip, since it was closed due to a rockslide. Darn.

After lunch, we headed out on the Pictograph Trail (which we learned is misnamed, because it leads to petroglyphs, not pictographs). We were quite hot, since we started the 2.4-mile hike at 1:40 p.m., but we had plenty of water, and the scenery on the hike was well worth a little sweat. The trail is steep in some places, with narrow sandstone steps, which made the crowd thin out after half a mile or so, leaving the trail mostly to us.

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Squeezing through a narrow part of Pictograph Trail

The petroglyphs were interesting, and we were glad we’d picked up a trail guide at the trailhead, as it explained some interpretations of the etchings. The ‘glyphs weren’t the only interesting part of the trail, either: remnants of walls, interesting geology, and unique plants dot the trail, too.

After the hike, we took respite in the air-conditioned museum for a bit, watching the movie and reading all the displays because learning is fun. The only thing left to do on Chapin Mesa then was to drive the Mesa Loop and look at the ruins along it. We did, of course, and while the stops were interesting, they didn’t make for very interesting pictures. Use your imagination.

We returned to the campground sweaty, dirty, and tired — the best way to end a day of vacation. Although it may not really seem “camping-ish” to have showers at a campground, we were pretty grateful for them that day. We ate dinner, showered, and collapsed into our sleeping bags, ready to get a good night’s sleep and do it all again tomorrow.

Have you been to Mesa Verde? 

What’s your favorite National Park?