Tag Archives: Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde National Park: Square Tower House and Far View

When we woke up on Sunday, August 29, our final morning at Mesa Verde National Park, we still had some adventures waiting for us. These included one of the highlights of our entire National Park travels over a decade: descending with a small group to Square Tower House. After that singular experience, we lingered at Mesa Verde, strolling around the mesa top Far View sites and finally having a look into the Visitor Center, before continuing on to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

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Mesa Verde National Park: Petroglyph Point

Our splendid day, Saturday, August 28, continued with an afternoon on Chapin Mesa, where we filled in some of the gaps of the 700 Years Tour we’d been on the day before. The centerpiece of the afternoon was our hike to see the panel of Ancestral Puebloan rock art at Petroglyph Point and making a few trail friends along the way.

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Mesa Verde National Park: Mug House and Step House

Saturday, August 28 was a splendid day in the National Parks. Sean kept saying about Mesa Verde National Park: “I really like this place. I’m having so much fun!” In the morning, we visited Mug House on the best Ranger-led interpretive tour we’d ever been on (which is saying something). In the afternoon, we hiked to Petroglyph Point and made some trail friends along the way.

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Mesa Verde National Park: Long House

On the afternoon of Friday, August 27, Sean and I had tickets to tour Long House, the first of four cliff dwellings that we would explore while we were at Mesa Verde. After spending the morning touring the National Park from the mesa top, we were excited to get down into one of the dwellings.

Our tickets were for 3pm, the final entry for the day. The Long House Tour is ranger assisted, rather than ranger led. This means that groups of 35 are allowed in at thirty-minute intervals and can talk to three rangers positioned throughout the cliff dwelling, rather than having a ranger hike in with a group. It’s like timed entry to a museum exhibition: you have your entry time but then can move through the space at your own pace.

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Mesa Verde National Park: 700 Years Tour

For more than 700 years—nearly triple the age of the United States—Ancestral Pueblo people inhabited what we now call Mesa Verde, a cuesta rising above the Colorado Plateau. Beginning in the mid-500s and lasting through the late 1200s, Mesa Verde was constantly inhabited, first by small assemblages of family units in modest pithouses on the mesa top, and ultimately by complex villages climaxing in the dramatic, world-famous cliff dwellings, including the largest cliff dwelling in the American Southwest, Cliff Palace. Then by the end of the 1280s, Mesa Verde was abandoned completely as the Ancestral Pueblo people migrated en masse to the Pueblos along the Rio Grande in what is now New Mexico or to Hopi lands in Arizona.

Sean and I had budgeted 2.5 days to explore Mesa Verde in a series of four tours. While tickets for ranger-led tours into the cliff dwellings are only available two weeks in advance, bus tours operated by concessionaire Aramark were available to book months ahead of time. Usually we’re much more interested in ranger-led options than in those handled by private companies, but we figured that the 700 Years Tour would be a good introduction to the Park on our first morning. And it concluded with a ranger-led tour of Cliff Palace. As we booked the tour in early April, we weren’t necessarily certain we’d be comfortable riding a tour bus with some 30 other people, but we’d cross that bridge if we had to. As it happened, the Delta variant was not yet raging in Colorado when we were there, and everyone was required to be masked, so we felt comfortable. Unfortunately, the Cliff Palace tour was a no-go because road work in the Park made it completely inaccessible in the summer of 2021.

And so on Friday, August 27 we began our exploration of Mesa Verde.

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Mesa Verde National Park: Onto the Green Table

On Thursday, August 26, Sean and I drove out of the San Luis Valley, up and over the San Juan Mountains and the Continental Divide, and onto the Colorado Plateau to Mesa Verde National Park. We were booked for three night’s at the Park’s Far View Lodge and had tickets for multiple tours through Sunday morning. Although Sean had long wanted to visit this National Park, and I had read extensively about the Ancestral Puebloans in advance of our arrival, neither of us expected to be so moved by this place even as we first arrived, still a day before setting sight on a cliff dwelling.

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Colorado 2021: Planning

Dune field and Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Square Tower House, Mesa Verde National Park

Painted Wall, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Monument Canyon, Colorado National Monument

Split Mountain, Dinosaur National Monument

Hi. It has been a while.

As Sean and I flew home from New York on March 2, 2020, we couldn’t have known how profoundly the world was about to change. We also couldn’t have known that it would be some eighteen months before we’d visit our next National Park unit. We’d had plans to visit Parks: a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park with my parents was already booked for April 2020; we were looking at Santa Fe and White Sands National Park in 2020; September of that terrible year was supposed to include a marriage celebration on Cape Cod followed by Acadia National Park and the Canadian Maritimes; we had loose plans for a weekend trip to St. Louis and Gateway Arch National Park. For 2021, we’d been considering possibly the Hawaiian Parks and American Samoa, maybe a 10th anniversary return to Isle Royale National Park combined with the Lake Superior Circle Tour, and then maybe that marriage celebration would be feasible for fall 2021.

None of those trips happened. Instead we stayed home, coped, watched in horror as the pandemic raged. We adjusted and created new ways to socialize. We even made some great new friends. Between gorging on poetry and the news, I built my business. As soon as it was our turn, we got vaccinated. We’re still skittish about flying, which was of course a fundamental component to nearly all of our Park trips. In June 2021 we bought a car, my first in seventeen years, because without it our horizons had contracted to the quiet, leafy streets of our Chicago neighborhood.

In early spring 2021, when it became clear that New England and the Canadian Maritimes were unlikely for the fall, we looked to alternative trip ideas. It may have felt optimistic, but we figured it would be good to get a trip booked even if we later had to cancel. Anticipating a road trip (even though we were yet to actually buy the car), we turned our gaze to Colorado.

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