Mesa Verde National Park

We moved about 3 hours east to Colorado to visit Mesa Verde National Park. We had cell service again! We moved on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, so the first road we looked for boondocking sites on was full. We tried another place and found a spot, after accidentally going a bit too high up a mountain with the trailer, and finding a place to turn around. We ended up camping at about 8,100 feet, and it got into the 30s at night! The elevation caused our propane-fueled furnace, fridge, and water heater to struggle, so we may try to avoid boondocking so high up in the future. If we were plugged into electricity, we could run these appliances with electricity instead of propane.

Mesa Verde National Park protects “the works of man” and includes thousands of archeological sites and hundreds of cliff dwellings. Ancestral Puebloan people lived on the mesa for centuries. They built pueblos on top of the mesa starting in 650 CE, and moved down into the cliffs around 1200 CE. They left less than a hundred years later and moved south into New Mexico and Arizona.

We bought tickets to tour all three of the cliff dwellings that currently have guided tours, which are Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House (each tour was $5 per person). When we bought the tickets, we were warned that the tours are rather strenuous and involve ladders, uneven stairs, and hiking up and downhill at 7,000 feet elevation. The tours weren’t that difficult, I think they just wanted everyone to be prepared.

Cliff Palace is so impressive. It is the biggest cliff dwelling that has been found at Mesa Verde. It was amazing to be able to walk through it and see the construction up close. It made us think about what it would have been like to live there. They climbed up and down the cliffs using hand and toe hold trails. It was hard enough using stairs and ladders! 

Balcony House is the most adventurous tour, and includes climbing a 32 foot ladder and crawling through a 15 inch wide tunnel. We both crawled through the sample tunnel at the visitor center to make sure we would fit! The obstacles made it more fun. 

The Long House tour was twice as long, and involved more walking to the house. It was a good tour, but I think we found it a bit less interesting because we had already done the other two tours.

We did a self-guided tour of Step House. It was the only dwelling found with steps down the cliff, so it’s definitely the one I would’ve wanted to live in.

Spruce House was closed due to rock falls, but we were able to view it from an overlook near the museum. 

It was really interesting to learn about the people that lived here. They farmed corn, beans, and squash on top of the mesa and made check dams to create usable soil. They got water from seep springs at the back of the caves, and seasonal rains and springs. They made beautiful pottery, with black and white designs. They didn’t have written language, but they decorated their dwellings with pictures and designs. They built round underground rooms called Kivas for religious ceremonies. 

About 70% of the park has been burned in forest fires caused by lightning since its creation in 1906. Many other parks have a “let it burn” policy, but in Mesa Verde they work to contain and suppress fires, to protect the archeological sites. They have even had to spray cliff dwellings with flame retardant in the past. Some fires have damaged sites, while others have burned away vegetation and revealed check dams that were previously undiscovered. While we were walking through an area that had previously burned, we saw some feral horses that snuck into the park from the Ute Reservation next to it.

Mesa Verde is different than many other National Parks, by focusing on human cultural history rather than nature. We found it really enlightening, and a great change of pace.

Day 245 | Mile 24,308

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2 thoughts on “Mesa Verde National Park

  1. Nice post and photos! Interesting that they warned you about the difficulty of the hike, but you didn’t think it was too bad. Those ladders certainly look a little scary…. but I think I’m becoming a big wuss about heights as I get older. 🙂 This place is definitely on our list. Looks pretty neat.

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    • Thanks! My husband Brian has a theory that the more popular an attraction is, the more warnings they give about it! The 32 foot ladder was a little intimidating, but there were small children on the tour who could do it, so I figured that I could too! Mesa Verde was very interesting, I definitely recommend it!

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