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Sunday, May 26, 2019

Snakes and Ladders

Morning in Mesa Verde was a bit chilly at 44 degrees, so we ran the propane heat to warm up. Cell service doesn't reach the campground, but we were pleasantly surprised to find free wi-fi.
By 1100 we made the short climb from the parking lot to Park Point, the highest point in the park at 8,572 feet. You can see it is a bit breezy.
There is a fire lookout here where someone scans the entire vista every fifteen minutes. Two dimensional photos don't really do justice to the awesome views.

Moving further into the park, we drove the Mesa Top loop. Frequent pull-outs allowed great views of Navajo and Cliff Canyons.
Before coming here, I thought of Mesa Verde having one or two cliff dwellings. Three are six-hundred cliff dwellings and nearly 5,000 archeological sites. It is an amazing glimpse into a world gone by.
Here's one of the larger cliff dwellings from the opposite side of the mesa.
We purchased tickets to tour Cliff Palace today, the largest dwelling in the park. Beth decided she was up for 8-10 foot ladders. We climbed down several ladders to descend 100 feet down from the top of the Mesa.
Here's a shot taken in the calm between tours.
Our ranger was very enthusiastic and answered all the questions posed by our group. He explained that current thinking is that Cliff Palace was a social and administrative site, with high ceremonial usage. We had about fifteen minutes of unstructured time to explore some of the 150 rooms and 23 kivas.
What Beth didn't expect were multiple ten foot ladders on the way out that really made for a thirty foot height. To really add to the excitement, the man in front of me said "there's a rattle snake, please pass word back down to the ranger." The one thing Beth likes less than heights is a snake. One gentleman found a stick and held the snake down in a hole while we all climbed past. No one was bitten and everyone had a story to bring home.
Safely back in the parking lot, I had to capture a photo of this vintage pick-up from Oregon.
Our next stop, Pit House, was on the Mesa Top and could be visited without any climbing.
Actually housed in a building with a roof to protect the excavation, Pit House had good signage and allowed us to get up close to Kivas.
By afternoon it it was 75 and sunny. My Silverton Hat and sunglasses provided great sun protection.

We drove around to a few more archeological exhibits before heading back to the campground. Mesa Verde is a dark sky park, so we are hoping the skies remain clear tonight.

Back at the campground we had some four legged visitors. While folks had told us that this campground almost always has spaces available, it was full on this Saturday night. We're glad we had the site reserved.

Two days was enough time to get a feel for the park, but we could easily have spent more time here. Wetherill Mesa is another third of the park we didn't visit.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Mesa Verde National Park

After a great experience in Durango, we headed 36 miles west to Mesa Verde National Park for the weekend.

Gateway to the park, the visitor's center has a small museum and rangers to answer questions. This is also where you sign up for guided tours of the cliff dwellings.
Pictographs in the foreground give way to mountains still capped with snow in late May.
After touring the museum we signed up for two walking tours, one this afternoon and another tomorrow.
You don't need to pay admission to the visitor's center, but just past it we made use of our Annual Park Pass. At $80 a year it is a good deal. If you are 62 or older, $80 gets you a lifetime pass.

Point Lookout is the first major landmark. The road winds around it to reach Morefield Campground on the other side.
Road crews work year-round to keep  travelers safe from boulders. It is twenty-two miles from the visitor's center to Balcony House. Switchbacks with great views and even a tunnel give way to the flat mesa top.
Reaching Balcony House in time for our 2:00 tour, the ranger greeted us at the top of the trail. Describing the tour as the "Indiana Jones" adventure, he warned of thirty-two foot ladders, squeezing through a twelve foot long tunnel, and climbing up a sixty foot open rock face.. It was enough to convince Beth to stay in the shade while I headed down.
Ladders led to well preserved dwellings built and occupied sometime in the thirteenth century. Forty rooms make up the dwelling, considered a medium size for the area.

It was interesting to imagine what life might have been like for the people living here almost seven-hundred years ago. The daily commute would have been climbing up to the mesa to tend crops during the day, then returning to a home securely hidden under the lip of this cliff before nightfall.
As described, there was a tight tunnel. Everyone in our group fit through. No super-sized people allowed on this tour!
Sturdy ladders were wide enough for two people to climb side by side.
Exiting was a bit of a challenge, but well placed chains provided support along the cliff face.
Beth found a relaxing spot to wait among wildflowers at the top of the mesa. From here we took a driving tour along the mesa top.

Chapin Mesa has a good archeological museum built in the style of the cliff dwellings.
Behind the museum, we walked down to visit with another ranger shortly before the trails closed for the day.
Just across the canyon, the 130 rooms of Spruce Tree House were nicely illuminated by the late afternoon sun.
The forty minute drive back to our campground made us happy to be driving a van rather than a big RV. Our mascot, Buffy the Bison, rides on the dashboard.

The view from our site #300 tonight.

Beth fell coming out of the bath house and is turning black and blue. That was scarier than the cliff dwellings.

Campsites here are $34.72 per night for dry camping. There are 267 sites,  15 of which have full hook-ups.
Here's the map showing today's travels. The park entrance is half-way between Durango and Balcony House in terms of time.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Durango Shop Tour

Another night at United Campground in Durango allowed early morning photos of the trains heading north to Silverton. You can just see our van behind locomotive 480.
Strapped the cell phone to a fence post for video. I'll post a link here once that is uploaded to YouTube.
All the train crews, like this engineer, were friendly and excited to talk about the railroad.
Blue skies should make this a better day for train buffs to ride the open air car. Unlike yesterday, there is no snow in today's forecast.
One last glimpse of the train passing through the campground before we head out.
Back in town we walked to the station for our Shop and Yard tour.
All is quiet since the two trains have already left for Silverton.
The tour is only a $5 add-on. Believe it or not, Beth and I were the only people signed-up.
Yard duties are performed by engine #1. Built in 1957, the 100 ton engnie has occasionally been called into passenger service.
The tower is only two stories tall.
Coal, sand, and water are loaded into tenders here.
Freight service has been displaced by trucking, so lots of old boxcars are used for storage.
Steam engines wait for a spin on the turntable.
Diesel engines and even a front loader are used to move steam locomotives around when they aren't  fired up.
Economics prevents the restoration of all the equipment.
When they do undertake restoration, bright lights allow for beautiful paint application.
Inside the roundhouse, stalls allow access to the underside of locomotives.
With the extensive knowledge of steam engines here, other railroads send their equipment to these shops for service.
Yes, that's a technician working inside a locomotive firebox.
This photo could have been taken any time in the last ninety years.
Wheels aren't huge on these narrow gauge engines.
The tire shop changes out steel tires as they wear, on these wheel sets.
Thanking our guide, we walked back to the station...
...and exited through the gift shop. The only thing we purchased was a Book and DVD set about the history of the railroad.
If we hadn't brought our little home with us, the Strater Hotel might have been a fun place to stay.

Returning to the van, we prepared lunch before heading out towards our next adventure.

We'll end three days of railroad posts with this map of the routes between Durango and Silverton.

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