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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.

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