Mesa Verde and Southwestern Colorado

Anasazi No More?

May 31 – June 7, 2019
Growing up in Colorado gave me the chance to visit Mesa Verde twice, once with my Mom, brother and cousin and once on a school trip. I was really excited to see it through adult eyes and John has always wanted to see where the Anasazi lived so we stayed for a week so we could explore.

We stayed at Ancient Cedars RV Park which describes itself as an “ideal, country-style, destination park located on 12+ scenic acres in the heart of Mesa Verde Country, close to a variety of acclaimed attractions in and around the Four Corners area. Camp among our 1500-year old Cedar Trees. Our evening dark sky is primed for stargazing, and unforgettable shooting stars! Be sure to take part in our on-site activities such as miniature golf, swimming, hot tubbing as well as horse-back riding right next door!” We thought “who wouldn’t want to stay here”? When we arrived we knew it was going to be a long week because the sites were extremely close together, it was not dog friendly, the hot tub and pool were “broken” and they didn’t have any other on-site activities except the miniature golf that they charged $5 a person to play. The one thing the park had going for it is that it is closest to the entrance of Mesa Verde. Even though we didn’t like the park very much it was worth it to stay there because it’s a long drive once you’re inside the park to get to the cliff dwellings.

When we arrived on Friday afternoon we went to the visitor center to gather information and make a game plan for the weekend. The first thing we learned when we got to the visitor center is that it is no longer correct to call the people who lived here Anasazi. The name “Anasazi” has come to mean “ancient people,” although the word itself is Navajo, meaning “enemy ancestors.” Contemporary Puebloans refer to their ancestors as Ancestral Puebloans. This civilization existed from approximately AD 100 to 1600, and was centered generally in the four corners area. Descendants of the Ancestral Pueblo comprise of members from the modern Pueblo tribes including Hopi, Zuni, Acoma and Laguna.

John is 15% Native American and was always told that he was Cherokee because his Grandmother was from Oklahoma. As DNA testing becomes more refined we have found that he is actually from Native Americans in the New Mexico/Colorado area, right around Mesa Verde. So, this made coming here even more special. According to John’s DNA test, the area below is where his Native America ancestry lived.

John’s Native American DNA

There is so much to see and do at Mesa Verde, we were glad that we had a whole week here. One thing to keep in mind when planning a trip here is that the cliff dwellings are close to an hour drive from the entrance of the park. Take this into consideration when planning your day. Our RV Park was right across the highway so as soon as we arrive we went over and got tickets for the cliff dwelling tours. All of the dwellings require a ranger led tour except for Step House and Spruce Tree House (which is currently closed due to rock falls) so we bought tickets for the Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House for later in the week.

The first cliff dwelling we visited was Step House which is a self-guided tour so you can take your time but you should allow about 45 minutes to an hour at the minimum. There is a one-mile trail that has a fairly steep descent (100 feet) on a winding path which starts near the Wetherill Mesa information kiosk. Step House is unique because it shows evidence of two separate occupations on the same site. There was a ranger on duty to answer any questions we had. I was excited to see the pit house in this dwelling and was a bit disappointed that it was a reconstruction, but I guess it’s almost impossible that it would have been in original condition since it is 700 years.

Next we took a bike ride on Wetherill Mesa on the Long House Loop which is a 6 mile paved trail with overlooks, beautiful flora and fauna including wild horses.

Petroglyph Point Loop

We always love to hike where there will be petroglyphs, dwellings or other interesting ancient artifacts so we knew before we got to Mesa Verde that we wanted to do this hike. The trail on the Chapin Mesa is considered adventurous and leads to a large petroglyph panel about 1.4 miles from the trailhead. The trail is only 2.4 miles long and the elevation gain is only 174 feet. We felt that it was a pretty easy trail except for the large stone staircase that requires some scrambling. The majority of the trail is relatively rocky and somewhat rugged but not too difficult and we really enjoyed it. We only saw one other family on the trail so it was quiet and peaceful. We are adding this to our favorite hikes of our Summer 2019 trip.

Below is a slideshow of photos from the hike.

The Long House

The Long House tour is considered “Mesa Verde’s Most In-Depth Tour”. It’s a two hour ranger guided tour that involves hiking about 2 1/4 miles and climbing two 15-foot ladders at the site.

Located on the Wetherill Mesa, Long House is the second-largest Mesa Verdean village and approximately 150 people lived there. The location was excavated from 1959 through 1961, as part of the Wetherhill Mesa Archaeological Project. Long House was built around 1200 and was occupied until 1280. The cliff dwelling features 150 rooms, a kiva, a tower, and a central plaza. Its rooms are not clustered like typical cliff dwellings. Stones were used without shaping for fit and stability. Two overhead ledges contain storage space for grain. One ledge seems to include an overlook with small holes in the wall to see the rest of the village below. A spring is accessible within several hundred feet, and seeps are located in the rear of the village.

Tours are only $7 per person, well worth the money but make sure you book early because they fill up quickly!

Cliff Palace

You can only see the Cliff Palace by a ranger-guided hour long tour. This is a really easy tour that requires climbing four 8-10 foot ladders, on a 100 foot vertical climb. Total walking distance is about 1/4-mile round-trip. Make sure to purchase your tickets before you drive to the site. This multi-storied ruin, the best-known cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde, is located in the largest alcove in the center of the Great Mesa. It is south- and southwest-facing, providing greater warmth from the sun in the winter.

Recent studies reveal that Cliff Palace contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas and had a population of approximately 100 people. Out of the nearly 600 cliff dwellings concentrated within the boundaries of the park, 75% contain only 1-5 rooms each, and many are single room storage units. The Cliff Palace is an exceptionally large dwelling which may have had special significance to the original occupants. It is thought that Cliff Palace was a social, administrative site with high ceremonial usage.

The doorways look very small (although they were perfect for me) and that’s because the average man was 5’4″ to 5’5″ tall and the women were 5′ to 5’1″. If you compare them to European people of the same time period, they are about the same size. The lifespan in that time was 32-34 years and about 50% of children died before they reached age five.

Sandstone, mortar and wooden beams were the three primary construction materials for the cliff dwellings. Many of the rooms were brightly painted. The Ancestral Pueblo people shaped each sandstone block using harder stones collected from nearby river beds. The mortar between the blocks is a mixture of local soil, water and ash. Fitted in the mortar are tiny pieces of stone called “chinking.” Chinking stones filled the gaps within the mortar and added structural stability to the walls. Over the surface of many walls, the people decorated with earthen plasters of pink, brown, red, yellow, or white and are the first things to erode.

Balcony House

John and I both have a fear of heights so we knew that this tour might be a bit challenging. It is described as the most adventurous tour in Mesa Verde. It’s only one hour and it is a ranger-guided tour but you have to climb a 32-foot ladder, crawl through a 12-foot long tunnel, and climb up a 60-foot open rock face and two 17-foot ladders to exit the site. It was scary but it was so worth it.

Balcony House is considered a medium size cliff dwelling with 40 rooms. Only 10 sites in the park have more. One of the cool things about this dwelling is that you can see how the construction of rooms and passageways evolved over time. I’m sure that I learned more on this tour but I don’t remember it because I was nervous through the whole tour knowing that I still had to climb the ladders and the rock face.

Point Lookout Trail

When we arrived at our RV park I saw this cool mesa and said to John “I want to climb to the top of that”. Luckily others before us must have thought the same thing because there’s a trail to the top called Point Lookout so we didn’t have to go trailblazing.

On this hike we had what we both believe was a wildlife encounter. We were nearing the top when we both heard a sound that we thought was a large cat “growl”. We both stopped at the same time and looked to the left where the sound came from. We weren’t far from the edge so we think whatever it was (bobcat or cougar) growled and then ran down the edge. We were about to turn back because I was afraid when another couple walked up. We told them what we heard and we all decided that we were safe in numbers so we continued the hike to the top. Coming back down we were on alert, especially in the area where we heard the cat, but we never saw anything. The hike was pretty easy and the views at the top were remarkable. We could even see the our motorhome at the RV Park.

I’m not a beer fan but John is and we both like going to local breweries. John usually gets a flight so that he can try a variety of beers and if he likes one he will fill his growler and take that home. I usually end up with a cider and most times they are bottled or canned and not necessarily local.

After hiking we headed to Mancos Brewing Company and John ordered a flight with their Porter, Red Ale, Dark Ale, and Brown Ale. He liked all of them and ended up filling his growler with the Porter. I had a cider that wasn’t great, I don’t even remember where it was from.

The Brewery also served food so we had a light dinner as well which was great because we had a long adventurous day and I didn’t feel like cooking.

Ute Mountain Roundup – Cortez, CO

There is an increasing number of people that do not like rodeos but John and I still enjoy them, especially when we find one in a small town we are visiting. So, we were very excited to find that the Ute Mountain Roundup was taking place while we were in the area. The rodeo started with a tribute to a local soldier who had recently been killed overseas. The family was honored and it was quite emotional.

One of the things we like about rodeos is how they always recognize service men and women. I am always very proud to have John stand up to receive the applause he deserves. I’m also a sappy patriotic and I really enjoy the National Anthem, flag processions, patriotic songs and the overall Americana feel of a rodeo. Rodeos are starting to have more events for women and this one added Ladies Breakaway Roping. It was fun to watch the women rope the cows as well as the men. Roping events have always impressed us, especially team roping. The finesse it takes to be able to catch the back legs at just the right time is amazing! Another event we like to watch is the wagon processions.

As you can see by the photos, I love the wagons. It impresses me to see someone control that many large horses. It’s easier to appreciate this when watching a video.

Another new event added to the roundup this year was Freestyle Bullfighting. We didn’t have any idea what to expect. All I can say is that the cowboys that do this must be a little bit crazy!

Four Corners

The Four Corners Monument is the only place where four states meet, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. If you are in the area and want to spend the $20 per car, you should do it. I enjoyed seeing the all of the native artwork and souvenirs. We didn’t want to wait in the line of over 30 people to take a picture on the marker so I just waited until no one was there and took a quick photo. I wouldn’t make a special trip here but since we were close we decided to go. I had been here as a kid but John hadn’t. He said that he could have given it a miss, I’m not sure what he was expecting but he was not impressed.

On our way back to our RV Park I suggested that we do a quick hike in the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. This monument is run by the Bureau of Land Management. Since we have a National Parks pass we can get into all of them for free so why not check it out. We did see some more wild horses when we were driving to the Visitor Center.When we got there we could see the clouds rolling in so we decided to walk through the Visitor Center which was a really comprehensive and interesting. After figuring out what hike we wanted to do we headed to the door and right then the sky opened up and it started pouring. So, we ran to the truck and drove home. Guess we will have to visit there again another time.

All in all, we enjoyed our time at Mesa Verde National Park and the surrounding areas. If you have never been to Mesa Verde, add it to your list. It was educational, beautiful and the hiking is great.