Mesa Verde National Park
Trip Start Feb 28, 2009
47Trip End Ongoing
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Last Saturday the weather was pretty bad- we woke up to snow on the ground which seems to be pretty normal for this time of year around here. I think we're both still trying to get used to spring at 7,000ft! It's so unpredictable, it'll be in the 60's one day, then snow the very next day! So anyway, there was snow on the ground, but it was in the mid 30's and the roads were clear, so we decided to head east to Mesa Verde National Park. The drive wasn't too bad, and after a quick stop in Cortez for Silas to get his haircut, we drove the last 10 miles to the park entrance. The weather still wasn't too bad, but we could see that we were about to have some serious elevation gain, and when the ranger at the entrance station warned us about the slushy roads we were starting to wonder what we'd gotten ourselves into.
The visitor center is about 15 miles from the entrance and sits at just over 8,000 ft, but before you get there, the road takes you as high as 8,572 ft, and by the time we got to the visitor center it was snowing fairly hard.
Most of the archeological sites that are at Mesa Verde require you to buy tickets and go on a guided tour with a ranger. At peak season I think there are three sites that you can take tours to, but at this time of year the only tour they were doing was to Cliff Palace- the largest cliff dwelling in the park. When we got to the visitor center we were told that if we wanted to go on a tour, we should buy tickets for the next one because if the snow continued they would probably be cancelling the other tours for that day. So we got our tickets and drove to the overlook for Cliff Palace, which is where the tour starts from. By the time we got there the snow was really coming down hard- I was kind of starting to wonder if it was safe to be climbing down the narrow trail built into the side of the cliff down to the site, but by the time the tour started the snow started to let up a little.
I have to say that although we really wanted to see Cliff Palace, I think neither of us was really looking forward to having to go in a big group like that. One of my least favorite things about hiking is if you end up on a popular trail and there are people in front of you, and people behind you and it's like you're in a parade or something. I really like peace and quiet while I'm hiking, but since the only way to see some of these sites was with a group, of course we were willing to do that. We were kind of making jokes on the way there about how there was sure to be one token annoying guy who would try to answer all the questions the ranger asked, but actually it wasn't bad at all.
The ranger led us down the trail and gave a lot of history about the area and cleared up some questions that I've been having... like what is the difference between the Anasazi and the Ancestral Puebloans? Turns out that those are two different names used to describe the same people. The tour lasted about an hour and by the time we climbed out of the canyon it had stopped snowing and was clearing up. It ended up being almost 60 degrees that day!
We also went to one of the dwellings that doesn't require you to take a tour to see- Spruce Tree House. It was a nice little walk down to it and they even had a ladder down into a kiva that you were allowed to climb down into.
Even though the tours are only going to one site at this time of year, part of our motivation for going to Mesa Verde so early in the season was to try to beat the crowds. It sounds like during peak season all the tours for the whole day fill up and sell out by noon or so. I definitely think it was worth it- especially if you're like us and you prefer peace and quiet while you're out hiking.