Thursday, April 2, 2015


Yes, it will take you an entire day and you still won’t see everything—even in winter when some of the park is closed. 

In the summer, there are several ranger-guided tours you may take.  They cost $4 per person and may be obtained a day in advance at the park Visitor’s Center near the entrance or the Colorado Welcome Center on Main St. in downtown Cortez.  If you are going with children and don’t have a problem crawling through a short tunnel, Balcony House is the best tour.  You have no other option for viewing Balcony House except for this tour. 

We generally do not recommend the Cliff Palace tour because you are never going into the ruin, only in front of it.  You can see Cliff Palace directly just above it off of Cliff Palace Loop or from a distance on the Mesa Top Loop overlook.  You may do the first option in winter if snow doesn’t close the road to Cliff Palace.  The Mesa Top Loop is open in winter.  The above photo is taken of Cliff Palace from the Mesa Top Loop overlook.

The other ranger-guided tour, offered new in 2015, is to Step House.  Step House is on Wetherill Mesa.  The road to this mesa is only open in summer.  It takes about a half hour to drive to this area from the main road turn-off near Far View Lodge.  Long House is accessible from the parking area at Wetherill Mesa, but you must hike or bike from there to this large and beautiful ruin site.  Wetherill Mesa is less frequently visited than the other areas of the park.  It is supposed to be open May 1.  This photo shows just a part of Long House.

The Chapin Hill Museum and Spruce Tree House are located close to each other.  These are both wonderful places to visit and are open year round.  Spruce Tree House is usually a self guided tour to the best-preserved site in the park.  You can go into a kiva in front of the dwelling.  (The kiva is not as good as the one at Kelly Place, but you should climb down into it anyway—for comparison.)  The museum offers information, lots of exhibits of artifacts found on the grounds, and a gift/bookstore.

The Mesa Top Loop is a drive to several sites, with parking spaces so you can get out and explore.  Some of the sites are set up to demonstrate different kinds of domiciles used at different times by the Ancestral Puebloans*.  There are overlooks which give views of canyon dwellings that you cannot get to without rock climbing (if you were permitted to—which you aren’t!).  Sun Temple is an enigmatic building which you can stop at and view along this drive. 

One site which is often overlooked and is one of my favorite is the Far View Ruins.  Upon driving into Mesa Verde, there is no sign to turn into it because they don’t want you to make a left turn right there.  When you are driving out, you may be too tired (ruined…) to stop.  However, it is worth it, so you should leave some time.  There is a self-guided trail which doesn’t take too long to explore.

Kelly Place is 25 miles from the park entrance (30-40 min., depending on traffic).  From the park entrance, the drive to the museum and ruins on Chapin Mesa is 21 miles, but because of the climb up over the top of the Mesa (8,000 ft elevation), this takes about 45-60 minutes.  You will not want to drive this road fast, especially if you are a “flatlander”!

Besides the hike to Long House on Wetherill Mesa, there are a few other hiking trails, notably Petroglyph Trail.  This begins along the trail to Spruce Tree House and takes you to a beautiful wall of petroglyphs (rock art). 

As you explore Mesa Verde, be on the lookout for wildlife—wild horses, turkeys, as well as the ubiquitous rock squirrels.

The park is open every day.  The main road may be temporarily closed in winter if there is a lot of snow.  There are scenic overlooks, picnic areas, a campground, and places to buy food, drink and silly souvenirs.  You may not pick up “souvenirs” from the grounds.

The official website is:

* The Ancestral Puebloans is the current politically correct name for the people formerly known as the Anasazi or cliff-dwellers.  Anasazi is a Navajo word roughly translated as “ancient foreigner”.  Modern day Pueblo people have objected to this name.  Each Pueblo tribe has a different language and therefore a different name for their ancestors, so we are using English.  “Cliff-dweller” is not appropriate because these people had different types of dwellings prior to building into the cliffs.  You have to practice saying Ancestral Puebloan because it does not flow trippingly off the tongue.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Nearly everyone will have a birthday this year, so this is appropriate for all except those youngsters born on Feb. 29, who age only a quarter as fast as the rest of us.  (I remember my grandmother’s sixteenth birthday!)

Birthday wishes are timely here at Kelly Place.  Kelly Place has been in business for 35 years!  McElmo Canyon Research Institute is celebrating 25 years of existence.  And our partner Elderhostel Inc., providing educational and economical vacation packages-- now called Road Scholar, is celebrating 40 years.  Kelly Place has been working with them from our beginning, 35 years ago. 

So enjoy your cake and candles this year.  We wish you all very many happy returns!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Wildlife at Kelly Place

Red Fox seen at Kelly Place
We are frequently asked about the wild animals that may be encountered around Kelly Place. It is canyon country and there are a number of animals which have not been frightened off by the humans.

The most notable is undoubtedly the mountain lion. In our ten years on the property, we have never seen one here. HOWEVER, we frequently see evidence that they are around, and not on the fringes either. Sometimes their footprints are right outside our home. When I spoke to the Colorado Wildlife official about the danger, he told me that this is a “good mountain lion” because it doesn’t kill our pets and has stayed out of sight of humans. If they were to move our good mountain lion, it would open up the territory to another which may not be so good.

So we live with the mountain lions. We are observant of the correct way to behave if ever we do encounter one. That is to make yourself look large (holding a jacket or shirt over your head) and unusual. I thought I would sing the Star Spangled Banner. But never turn your back and run away. They are cats and if you act like a mouse, they will chase you. That’s why most mountain lion attacks are on runners or bicyclists. There have been no attacks on people in this area.

People frequently ask about snakes. We have no poisonous snakes in our property. There are rattlesnakes in the area, but they don’t seem to make it to us. We do have bull snakes (aka gopher snakes) which can get pretty big. They also can pretend to be rattlesnakes! One morning I found three of our cats surrounding a dry bush and there was a rattling inside the bush. It was a small bull snake rattling the dry leaves to try to scare the cats away. The cats just got bored eventually and left.

We also have small snakes such as garter snakes, but I rarely see snakes in the summer and, of course, never in cold weather.

Other reptiles include the beautiful collared lizard, which is frequently photographed preening for the camera (more likely for a mate). There are plenty of small striped lizards. It turns out that these are all female and reproduce by parthenogenesis!

Returning to the mammalian population-- We have skunks, raccoons, red and gray fox, and ring-tailed cat. Occasionally a coyote visits. I have seen a bobcat in the canyon, but not here. Mule deer are frequent visitors. They love our flowers and young plants. Last year we had a group of yellow-bellied marmots in the rocks easily seen from below. Some guests thought they were mountain lions because they couldn’t judge the size. It was obvious, though, when they stood on their hind legs (the marmots, not the guests).

Ring-tail Cat, enjoying our grapes.

We don’t have prairie dogs this side of the creek, but there are plenty of rock squirrels. It’s amazing to see them scurry straight up a rock wall. They are too smart. Marc saw one trying to open the lever-style doorknob on the office door. They did manage to open a push-button lock on a plastic container filled with bird seed. Now we keep our bird and cat food in a container with a carabiner lock. Squirrels don’t have thumbs.

Cute Kitty Visits!
Of course—the birds! Marc tries to keep the bird feeders filled, but it isn’t easy. We have a list of nearly a hundred species of birds sighted on the property. This list is posted on a bulletin board by the front door. We encourage new additions.

We have seen white-winged doves come in and take over territory from the mourning doves. Sometimes people think they are owls because they don’t recognize the sound of the doves cooing. We have three types of hummingbirds: rufous, black-chinned and broad-tailed. They carom around the courtyard from feeder to feeder. Sometimes one gets confused and tries to feed from a decorative light or guest’s ear! A scrub jay just arrived to munch on some cat food. There are Bullock’s oriole, hummingbird, and Say’s phoebe nests that I have seen in the trees. The white-throated swifts’ mud nests under rock overhangs remind us that they constructed the first cliff dwellings.