Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, United States
As we set off this morning we understood why this small town is called Mexican Hat – one of the local landmarks looked exactly like one! Our route up Hwy 160 gave us lots of great views of rock formations, then got even more stunning as we approached Mesa Verde, the "Green Table" National Park and UNESCO World Heritage site which offers a look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people through their stunning ruins. They made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 600 to 1300 - today the park protects nearly 5,000 archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings.
The visitor centre is 15 miles off the road so we went to check out our options: we booked onto the 4.30pm tour of Cliff Palace, possibly the most spectacular of all the ruins. We also wanted to see the Balcony House, accessed via a 12 ft tunnel and climbing a 32ft ladder, but unfortunately Hubby's shoulders wouldn’t fit through the mock-up of the tunnel – I was very glad of the test situation, having visions of bottles & corks....
We had lunch then drove to Spruce Tree House, the best preserved of the cliff dwellings under an overhang. It was free to visit and therefore heaving with people, but was still a spectacular sight. As we climbed back up the path it started to rain, so we went to the museum and watched a very informative film about the Ancestral Puebloans who had built and lived in Mesa Verde. Thunder and lightning followed yet again, plus torrential rain, so we went back to the van to change into more appropriate clothing for our walking tour.
It was still raining as we drove the 6 miles to Cliff Palace parking lot, but there were hardly any vehicles and we had great views of the ruins from the cliff top. The lack of people didn’t last, sadly, as the 3.30 & 4pm tours had been cancelled due to the thunderstorm, so they all joined our tour, making nearly 60 people in all. Ho hum
We all followed the steep path downwards, then had to climb down a ladder just as the ancients did. Our guide was excellent, full of information laced with humour, but nothing compared to the sight of the ruins: a 4-storey tower plus rooms and sunken kivas (rooms used for religious practices). Only around 15% had been restored, with the rest just left as they had been abandoned; many were still complete so it felt as if the inhabitants had just walked away.
Our day was coming to a close and we needed a site for the night, so we drove back to the main road and found Mesa Verde RV resort, a full facility Good Sam park with helpful owners, excellent restaurant & a hot tub.