Thursday, April 2, 2015

WHAT TO DO AT MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK



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.