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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Day 28 Mesa Verde NP (Leg: 0, Trip: 2,136)

Welcome to Mesa Verde NP

Today we left the RV parked in Bluff UT and got going early (OK, early for us - 9am) to drive to Mea Verde NP, a distance of 110.5 miles each way. The weather was great, sunny and warm, as we began the trip. We added two more states, Colorado and New Mexico, to our total this trip, bringing it to 8. We started in Washington and traveled through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and Arizona already.

We took a small detour to visit four corners where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado all meet at one point. We actually wanted to walk around the monument marker so that we could say we walked from Utah to Arizona to New Mexico to Colorado. In fact, I was going to run to be able to say I ran it. Unfortunately, the monument is closed as they are rebuilding it so you can't get within 100 feet of it due to the construction fences. So our stay in New Mexico was only about 5 minutes.

The actual monument is on Navajo tribal land, so there are a bunch of stands selling all kinds of native crafts. We aren't really into that, so we just turned around and went on our way to Mesa Verde.

Upon entering the park, the road was under construction. They are in the process of repaving the first 12 miles or so and the asphalt was all grooved and graveled, ready for the new topcoat. So we were driving at varying speeds between 10 and 20mph for that stretch. The park is quite high, parts of it are well over 8,000 feet in elevation. Most of the ruins are at the 7,000+ foot level.

This is a hard park to describe. There are over 20 sites of cliff dwellings in the park plus numerous more on the mesa-tops. The area has been inhabited for over 6,000 years with the cliff dwellers coming there about 800-900 years ago.

We stopped at the visitor center and bought tickets to the noon tour of Cliff Palace. This is one of the sites that is supposed to be the easier of the actual guided tours into the ruins.

Cliff Palace from the overlook above

The tour costs $3 per person. You start at an overlook where the above picture was taken and climb down about 100 feet or so. The climb down starts with a few steel stairs and quickly degrades into rough steps hewn into crevaces in the rock, some only 18-20 inches wide. Good thing us skinny folks fit. Unfortunately, the guys that did the stairs all had small feet and my clodhoppers sometimes made it difficult to gain sure footing.

On the Cliff Palace tour

Once down to the ruins, the ranger (ours was Ranger Jo) gives you a combination of guesses and legends as to what things were like. Many details are unknown. You climb ladders to access the various levels, though you only make 3 real stops in the ruin area. Most rooms are off limits to protect them. There area about 150 rooms in Cliff Palace for sleeping, food storage and ceremony. They estimate about 100 people lived here full time, few past the age of 40 and only one in five children lived to adulthood.

Inventors of Legos used the Kiva to store them (NOT!)

The ceremonial rooms are called Kivas, which is a Hopi term. We really don't know if that was what the Pueblos called them. This tour is not for those who are out of shape! The climb out include many steps, very narrow crevasses, and three ladders to climb. We were both winded when we got to the top but we both made it. There is no way we could have done this tour last year at this time, especially with Carol only 12 days past open heart surgery!

Another of the cliff dwelling ruins

As you drive around on the top of the mesas, there are many overlooks to see other ruins similar to Cliff Palace. Some are in fairly good repair and others are shadows of what they used to be.

Ruins on a nearby cliff

Square Tower House ruins

A birds nest in a hole above the Cliff Palace ruins

The wind started up in the afternoon and as we were about to leave the park at 4:30, a dust storm developed with winds up to 30mph. Further pictures weren't going to come out well so it was just as well that we had seen all the sites and got our photos and video.

You can watch a quick tour of Cliff Palace here.

Coming home we stopped at an Indian casino for a buffet dinner. Unfortunately, it wa not the greatest nor up to par with other Indian casinos we have eaten at. The drive home in the dust storm went quick and it is still dusty at the RV now.

It's been a long day and I'm tired. The altitude at Mesa Verde really took its toll on us so I'm glad to be back at a lower altitude.

Tomorrow we are planning on going to Natural Bridge National Monument. And then on Tuesday, we plan to move on to Moab if all goes well.

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