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The Tour Goes Among The Buildings Of The 'Cliff Palace' - Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Colorado: Mesa Verde National Park

THE FOUR CORNERS

The “Four Corners” is the only point where four States meet; Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. As you might expect it is easy to get confused as to which one you are in at any one time around here. To mark this spot, there is a monument, which sits on Native American Indian land. As with all such landmarks on Native American Indian territory, there are traders selling a host of crafts, both traditional and not so traditional. Whist you can get prissy about the despoiling of landmarks life is hard for these people so we can fully understand why this is allowed to happen – especially after what has been taken from them in the past. Having said all this the monument itself is not very exciting and after a picture or two all is done and we actually spend more time looking at the craftwork which is actually very good quality. From the Four Corners, we swiftly move on to our stopover point for the night Cortez, Colorado.

The “Four Corners” is the only point where four States meet; Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
Being in four States at the same time!

MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK

The reason for selecting Cortez was its proximity to Mesa Verde National Park. This National Park is home to the largest and best-preserved dwellings of the pre-historic peoples of the United States, the Ancestral Puebloans. When we set off from Cortez this morning it was a cold and damp day, and as we rose up onto the Mesa Verde the weather got bleaker as we entered into the cloud base and colder. By the time we got to the Far View Visitors Center, it was downright cold and miserable. Not to be deterred we bought our tickets for the tour of the largest preserved ruin, the Cliff Palace and set off across the mesa top. Luckily the weather took a turn for the better and the time we got there the clouds had started to break up and the sun was shining.

The tour itself was wonderful. They do say that it is a strenuous tour, and that is surely the truth as you have to descend down the steep cliff a few hundred feet to get there and then go up some ladders to reach the ruin. The situation of these dwellings underneath the ledges of the sandstone cliffs is amazing. Winters are cold and the summers hot so it is easy to see why these places were chosen, but their accessibility is problematic especially for what essentially were stone-age people. All the materials required to build these complex building structures had to be carried down from the top of the mesa. Our Ranger guide gives us a fascinating tour, explaining the history of these Puebloan people and how their society operated. Whilst these Puebloan people disappeared from these locations some 900 years ago, their descendants still live further south in New Mexico and Arizona. Many traditions have remained preserved and the tribal storytellers have continued to pass on stories of the Ancestors down through the generations. We were spell bound by the complexity of the building structures and how they have cleverly used the contours of the rock formations in their architecture. As they say, what comes down must go up – and the route back to the mesa top is no less strenuous than the way down.

The Cliff Palace
The tour goes among the buildings of the 'Cliff Palace'
The Park Ranger tours are a great way to find out more of the history of Mesa Verde National Park
The kiva at the Cliff Palace

A short drive from the Cliff Palace is the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. This is a wonderful museum that has a series of dioramas that depict the development of the Ancestral people from basket makers living in pit dwellings through to the pottery makers of the cliff dwellings. In addition there is a fabulous display of artifacts of these people. To help put this into context there is also a short film about the Puebloan people and the history of the National Park. By the time we have worked our way through the museum the sun is now fully out and it has warmed up considerably. Not far from the museum is another ruin, Spruce Tree House. This is the best preserved dwelling in the Park. The walk is down (and up) a fairly steep pathway but the journey is well worth it. Spruce Tree House is not as large as the Cliff Palace but the buildings are in better condition. There is also a reconstructed “Kiva”, a circular under-ground building used for ceremonial purposes. We are allowed to climb down into the Kiva via a rickety old ladder in the roof. Surprisingly it is not too claustrophobic down inside. The climb back up to the museum is quite steep, and as it is now considerably warmer we feel that we have earned the right to an ice cream – so on the way back out of the park we stop again at the Far View Visitors Center, this time at the restaurant. We happily ate our ice creams whilst gazing out of the window across the vast mesa top below us and into the valleys beyond – bliss!!

Jack climbing into the Kiva

Planning your visit to Mesa Verde

From Durango, CO, and Durango-La Plata County Airport (Total distance, approx. 65 miles/1-1/2 hours)

Take US-160W to the exit for Mesa Verde National Park.
The Entrance Gate is 1 mile from the exit. The Lodge is 15 miles from the Entrance Gate. The museum and Chapin Mesa sites are approximately 20 miles from the entrance gate.

From Cortez, CO, and Cortez Municipal Airport (Total distance, approx. 25 miles/1/2 hour to 45 minutes)

Take E Main St./US-160E.
Take the Mesa Verde National Park exit.
The Entrance Gate is 1 mile from the exit. The Lodge is 15 miles from the Entrance Gate.

From Farmington, NM, and Four Corners Regional Airport (Total distance, approx. 85 miles/1-1/2 hours)

Take 170/140N to Hesperus.
Take 160W to the exit for Mesa Verde National Park.
The Entrance Gate is 1 mile from the exit. The Lodge is 15 miles from the Entrance Gate.

From Telluride, CO, and Telluride Regional Airport (Total distance, approx. 98 miles/2 hours)

Take US-160E
Take CO-145S to US-160E – 8 miles.
Take the exit for Mesa Verde National Park.
The Entrance Gate is 1 mile from the exit. The Lodge is 15 miles from the Entrance Gate.

From Moab, UT (Total distance, approx 124 miles/2 hours)

Take UA-191 / US-491 to Mesa Top Ruins Rd.
Take the exit towards Mesa Verde National Park from US-160 E
Turn right onto Mesa Top Ruins Rd.
The Entrance Gate is 1 mile from the exit. The Lodge is 15 miles from the Entrance Gate.

Website:https://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htm
Telephone:T: (970) 529-4465
Hours: 
Admission Fees

Summer ( May 1 – Oct 31)
Vehicles $30 | Motorcycles $25  Cyclists / Individuals $15

Off Season 
Vehicles $25 | Motorcycles $20  Cyclists / Individuals $10

Best time to visit Mesa Verde

With an average annual precipitation of just 18 inches, Mesa Verde remains dry despite being between 6,000 and 8,572 feet high. June is the driest month, with just over 1/2 inch of rain, and August is the wettest, with 2 inches. The park typically receives 80 inches of snow in a season. Summer temperatures tend to be about 10° cooler than in the nearby Montezuma Valley. Even during July, the hottest month, highs average a bearable 87°F (30°C), and nighttime lows dip into the mid-50s (lower teens Celsius). In winter, temperatures on the mesa can sometimes be 10° warmer than in the valley. This happens during calm, clear periods when cold air is trapped in the lowlands. Daytime highs on the mesa average in the low 40s (single digits Celsius) in December, January, and February.

Because winter storms often continue well into March, spring tends to come late. Warm autumns, however, are not uncommon. In April, average temperatures are 5° cooler than in October, with 60s (teens Celsius) for highs and 30s (single digits Celsius) for lows.

Avoiding the Crowds

With close to 600,000 visitors annually, Mesa Verde can seem packed at times. But park officials point out that the numbers are much lower just before and after the summer rush. June 15 to August 15 is the high summer visitation period. Visit during the first 2 weeks of June or the last 2 weeks of August, and you’ll encounter fewer crowds.

Where to stay in near Mesa Verde National Park

1. FAR VIEW LODGE

**Far View Lodge is open from the beginning of May to the end of September

Far View Lodge is the only lodging inside of Mesa Verde National Park and is located 15 miles from the park entrance. The traditional Western décor of the lobby and dining room, fantastic views, warm hospitality and superb dining welcome you for an unforgettable vacation. The lodge comprises of 150 rooms in 2 room types, Kiva and Kiva Deluxe View.

The lodge was designed to reflect the true essence of Mesa Verde, with solitude all around you and freedom from the distraction of in-room TVs or cell phone service but plenty of wildlife watching.

2. STARRY NIGHTS RANCH BED & BREAKFAST

Located in Mancos in the Colorado region and Mesa Verde National Park Visitor Center reachable within 12 miles, Starry Nights Ranch Bed & Breakfast provides accommodations with free WiFi, BBQ facilities, a shared lounge and free private parking.

A flat-screen TV with DVD player, private bathroom with a hairdryer, and a kitchenette with microwave are featured in certain units.

Guests at the bed and breakfast can enjoy an American breakfast.

A garden and a sun terrace are available at Starry Nights Ranch Bed & Breakfast.

3. WILLOWTAIL SPRINGS

Willowtail Springs has charming lakeside B&B Cabins with views of the mountains and Mesa Verde National Park.

Willowtail Springs is nestled a mere 10-minute drive from Mesa Verde, so there’s no need to rush through the Park in one day. With over 600 cliff dwellings and 4,300 archaeological sites spread across 50,000 acres, plan on two or three days to experience as much of Mesa Verde as possible.

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