Southwest Vacation – Part V

We had reservations for Mesa Verde National Park on Tuesday of our vacation, so this was kinda the one day we really had “locked in” so far as flexibility with everything else went. Brooke had been there before, but it had been many years. She knew generally what to expect, and she’d been on the main tour, Cliff Palace, previously. She really wanted to go to Square Tower house, as that was the most “exclusive,” difficult to attend, tour. The only way to do it was to secure reservations up to 2 weeks in advance, with 10 slots opening at 9:00 am CDT. Two weeks ahead, I sit at my computer, refresh the page at exactly 9:00 am, and within, no joke, 20 seconds, all 10 reservations were taken. Ug. The next day, I tried again, but this time, I actually got to the CAPTCHA verification. It put me through three rounds of verification (motorcycle, bus, crosswalk….)….and then it still didn’t give me any tickets…. Ug ug.

After that, we gave up and went with Balcony House, which wasn’t the main tour everyone does, but it wasn’t the most exclusive one, either. Alas, it would be fine.

Regardless, we made the drive from Blanding to Mesa Verde (an hour and a half-ish), taking a somewhat scenic route through reservation lands, before hitting their impressive-looking visitor center. We didn’t stay long, as we wanted lunch and we were going to do a driving tour of the area.

I should also note that the drive from the visitor center to where the towers are was kinda long? We had to drive up to the top of Mesa Verde, which wasn’t a trivial drive, taking another 30-45 minutes to complete. It was really pretty, though, and surprisingly lush up there (hence where the “verde” name comes in).

One of the neat things about the site is that there are kivas all over the place, but along the driving tour, they were laid out chronologically, so we got to see an older version of one, then a newer one, then a much more ornate one, giving us a sense of how they evolved over generations. The National Park Service also has them covered to protect them from the elements, while also providing shade for tourists like us.

Here’s the view of Cliff Palace from across the canyon, complete with a tour group checking things out. They are truly remarkable structures to see up close, let alone in the distance. One wonders how the residents of these structures got down and up all the time, as the would be farming on the top of the mesa, then returning down to the dwellings in the rock face.

The Balcony House tour took off from a parking lot above the dwelling and, while it wasn’t a strenuous trip down, it wasn’t necessarily simple, either. It took about 10 minutes to get down there, down a paved path, first, then down some metal stairs to a walkway that went alongside the mesa.

The tour guide said he has had people “freak out” due to heights while being down there, so he told everyone that it’s probably not a good idea to go if you think you’re going to run into issues. He said someone had to be airlifted out because they couldn’t be carried from the site below.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of heights, personally, but I thought this was fine. It was far from the edge and there were plenty of railings. Not a big deal. However, there was a spot later on where, if I were much bigger than I am, I would have struggled to get through.

We climbed a ladder to get up to the cliff dwelling, two-by-two, which again is something some folks have problems with. Not a big deal for any of us, though. Kinda neat to get to a tourist site, though!

Once we were up there (also, after kids and adults asked way too many questions, like, right before climbing the ladder! Seriously, hold up with the questions until we’re up there!), the tour guide started pointing out the various structures and some key aspects of the architecture. For example, wooden beams made differently than one another, suggesting that one structure was built first, and then they made changes before the next one. Another kid noticed that each room was labeled a bit differently. The tour guide noted that archaeologists label sites they have investigated in different ways, so it was probably one person “numbering” rooms, and another person came through and “lettered” them, instead. There were multiple architectural anecdotes like that as we continued on.

And at the end, we still see another enormous kiva, deep into the rock. How they dug into the rock face this far is unclear, though it was probably chipping away at rocks for years. This kiva was relatively deep, and it would have had a thatched roof for people to walk across on top. Couldn’t really beat the view from up there, either!

The return trip to leave went through a small tunnel. The tunnel was 18 in wide by 27 in tall, so yeah: small. And it was about 12 ft long. I had my backpack on, so it would have been easier on me if I didn’t… The kids and Brooke didn’t have any issues, but I suspect folks like my father-in-law wouldn’t be all that comfortable trying to climb through.

After that, we headed back to Blanding! Mesa Verde was pretty cool! In some ways, it was kind of like Shenandoah National Park, which we visited last year, where a lot of the trip was driving to and from the park, and driving within the park. Unlike Shenandoah, though, we got to take much longer breaks to see things like Balcony House, or the other kivas along the driving tour.

The following day was spent in Blanding, doing nothing! We had spent a lot of time driving and sightseeing, so we built in a day midweek where nothing was really planned. We watched some “Psych,” we played some cards, we read books – it was a good time to get some relaxing in before our last day before heading home!

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