And now back to your regularly scheduled long post…
Mesa Verde National Park is all about the Ancient Puebloan ruins. The rangers said there are about 600 sites within the park boundaries. The most interesting ones are the cliff dwelling that are built into alcoves on cliff faces.
Because the trails to access them are quite challenging and because they don’t want people in them unattended, to get to the best 3 of them you must join a ranger guided hike. The hikes run every 1/2 hour and cost $4 a person. You can book them up to 2 days in advance and only in person.
Yesterday we had gone to the visitor’s center in town and booked two of the hikes for today and one for tomorrow. I think there are 50 people on each hike and they were all pretty full today.
Our first hike was at 10 am. We were told it would take 1 1/2 hours to get from Cortez to the start of the hike. Mesa Verde is big. It took us just under an hour. (I did the speed limits everywhere, honest).
As you can see from the map, the road in is very twisty and turny. Cortez is at about 6000 feet. You must climb to around 8500 feet before dropping back down to around 7000 at the bottom of the park.
There is one tunnel.
There have had a series of very bad forest fires in the last 10-15 years here so part of the park looks like this.
Since we got there so early we went and looked at a museum. It had a lot of good stuff but we are not museum people.
The first hike was to Cliff Palace. It is the largest settlement in the park.
The hikes start on top of the mesa and then you must somehow get down into the alcove. This means very steep ladders, steps and trails. This was the best part for me but not so much fun for Jennie.
We wandered down to the lookout where the hikes starts. The 9:30 group was getting its lecture about how strenuous it was and what to expect and how someone had a heart attack during the hike recently. One elderly lady decided to change her mind and asked if we wanted her ticket. We gave her our 10 o’clock ticket although I am not sure what she was going to do with it.
The view from the lookout.
Down we go.
First the narrow steep steps.
Then a short ladder. Thankfully we only had to climb ladders today, which is still a challenge but MUCH easier than going down.
We stopped on a ledge at one end while the ranger gave a talk about the ruins.
I have noticed that the panoramas that I have posted are kind of grainy. They look fine in the program I use to create the blog but seem to get downgraded when they are posted. I am going to try a new way to display them.
You can use the mouse wheel to zoom and then just click and drag to move around. If you hit the little box with the down arrow it expands to use the entire browser window. You can hit escape to return to the normal window. Unfortunately in the Chrome browser this seems to take you back to the start of the post. It works properly in Firefox. Let me know what you think.
I am also not sure if this will show up in the emailed version of the post.
They tell you to never touch or sit on any of the stone because the oil from your skin will stain the rock. As you can see below…
We then headed down to walk along the front, for an up close view and another talk.
This round area is called a kiva. They think that they are mainly used for ceremonial purposes. It would normally have a roof on it right at ground level. The fire pit is in the middle and the only way in is climbing down a ladder through a hole in the middle of the roof.
The view back up to the lookout.
Next comes the really fun part. Getting out. Here is some of the previous group climbing the last ladder.
First some very steep steps cut into the stone.
Then a series of three ladders, the last of which you already saw.
You can sort of see the lady and her son, way down there on the second ladder.
The tour is only about an hour so by now it was about 10:45. Our next tour wasn’t until noon. We drove over to the starting point anyway and had lunch.
You couldn’t see the alcove that we were going to because it was right below us. We asked a ranger if there was a viewpoint and he said that just down the road there was a 2 km return trail to a lookout. By now it was 11:15 so it would be cutting it close but we went and walked very quickly.
The view up and down the canyon from the lookout. There are no rivers in these canyons. They are entirely carved by rain and flash floods. The only water in the area is in the alcoves where it gathers after seeping down from the mesa above.
The ruins are in the alcove just right of Jennie’s head.
It is called Balcony House and is much smaller than the previous one.
The real fun (for me) on this one is getting in and out. The biggest challenge getting down is that ladder that you can see bottom right. It is 32 feet tall and very exposed. Going out you have to crawl through a tunnel and then climb some steep (even steeper than the last tour) steps and ladders. I wasn’t sure Jennie would want to do this one but she said yes.
The group ahead of us is heading for the first set of stairs down.
Hurrying back to the car we saw this colourful little guy.
We made it back to the tour starting point right at 12. The ranger made an even stronger statement about the nature of the hike but there were still people taking very young kids down with them.
Down several sets of long metal stairs.
To The Ladder.
I went up beside Jennie and kept one of my hands on her back, which she said made her feel much safer.
At the top you have to go through a narrow passageway with another short ladder.
Jennie wouldn’t let me post the bum shot of her going up.
We then got to the open area where the ranger did her first talk.
It took a while to get everybody up. There were a lot of people that really did not like it but you are not allowed to turn back.
You can see the short ladder, cut out stone steps and the dark area at the top. That is how we get to the next stop.
There was no wall here and it was a long way down.
Next up was the tunnel. It is 12 feet long and you have to go through on your hands and knees.
Edited for content.
Then a ladder and some steps steep enough that they need chain railings and some more ladders.
It’s a long way down to the ranger in her hat.
And safe. I was very impressed at how Jennie handled that one.
This was another 1 hour tour. By now it was about 1:15. We decided just to drive around a scenic loop and check out the viewpoints.
The Puebloans were in this area for about 800 years. They only used the cliff dwelling for about the last 100 of those years. The rest of the time they lived on the mesa top. We looked at some protected ruins.
We walked out to a viewpoint to see Square Tower House.
They are reinforcing it.
Then to a viewpoint that looked across to the Cliff Palace. It is in the alcove to the very left.
There were a lot of other smaller ones along the same cliff.
We were a bit burned out by now so we headed for home. We stopped at the viewpoint at the highest spot in the park.
The hazy mountain off in the distance is called the Sleeping Ute Indian.
Head to the right, little toes sticking up way on the left.
There is actually a manned fire lookout here.