After we left Durango, we headed to Mesa Verde National Park, where we were going to make our second attempt at camping. It is less than an hour from Durango to the visitor center, so we went in the morning to reserve tickets for the tours they offer of the cliff dwellings, then headed into the nearest town, Cortez, for lunch. After lunch, we scoped out the campground and picked the best campsite we could find.
We worked on setting up camp for a bit, then A & I took off for the mile drive to the cliff dwellings for our scheduled tour (yes, it takes an hour to get from the campsite IN the park to the actual cliff dwellings – mostly because you are driving along the top of the mesa (defined as an isolated flat-topped hill with steep sides – and of course, Mesa Verde translates to “green table” in Spanish – I totally see why!)
The tour we did that afternoon was the Balcony House, the more “difficult” of the tours, because it involved climbing up a big ladder and crawling through a tunnel. We decided that the little guys may not be up for it, so we split up.
Though my favorite tour ended up being the Cliff Palace, this was A’s favorite – only because of the adventure required to go up big ladders and squeeze through small spaces
After our tour, we headed back for a campfire dinner, then at bedtime, C headed to an evening ranger program that was held every night at the campground. He thought it was great – started with some campfire songs, then the ranger talked about the history of the national parks.
We made it through the night without freezing, and sufficiently comfortable to be willing to camp again the next night. Hooray! After breakfast, we took the hour drive to the cliff dwellings in time for our 10am tour. This tour was for Cliff Palace, and it was absolutely amazing! If I was going to live 700 years ago, this is totally where I would have wanted to live! These Pueblo people originally lived on top of the mesa, but moved into the alcoves in the cliff and built bricks (by hand) that were used to build these amazing dwellings.
The boys were a little restless on the tour, but it moved along quickly and we got to walk right through the dwelling.
At the end of the tour, there were a few small ladders to climb, but the little guys handled them like pros!
After our tour, we took a short hike to a viewpoint where we could see Balcony House (where we had our previous day’s tour). As you walk on the mesa and to these overlooks, there are a bunch of random dwellings in alcoves. It isn’t just the handful that are available for tours – the Pueblo people built more than 600 cliff dwellings that are now within the park’s boundaries!
We stopped for a picnic lunch and Junior Ranger badges at the visitor center (our Cliff Palace tour guide was the ranger who swore them in as Junior Rangers – in the pledge she made them promise to clean their rooms and eat their vegetables (A said he didn’t repeat those parts so he wasn’t held to that part of the pledge 🙄 ).
We also stopped to see the Spruce Tree House dwelling. You used to be able to walk through it without a tour, but there were some potential structural problems, so we could only see it from the overlook. There were 3-4 rangers stationed there that seemed to basically just act as family photographers – we didn’t say no!
That night, we decided to try to take everyone to the night time ranger program at the campground, and the talk was about astronomy. It was pretty neat to see the stars (and the moon and Jupiter!). We were able to pick out the Big Dipper with confidence, though beyond that, we were just guessing. Still – a neat program, and fun to walk through the campground at night after it was over!
We survived our second night of camping, and were happy to have a successful camping experience under our belt. Our next camping will be at Yellowstone, and it is supposed to be cold (snow in the forecast right before we arrive!), so let’s hope we can tough it out!