Touring the Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park

{Dates of Visit Apr 30 - May 8, 2014}

After visiting Chaco Canyon we were even more stoked to check out Mesa Verde National Park in South Western Colorado. Photos of these ancient cliff dwellings had been luring us, like moths to a flame, to walk through these sacred grounds. Rumor has it that the dwellings may soon ban all foot traffic and will only be able to be seen from afar so we were eager to get up close and personal before that happens.

We needed blocks under our tires just to get level at Sleeping Ute,
Without knowing much about the area we opted to stay at Sleeping Ute RV Park at the Ute Mountain Casino because we're dumb that way (you'll see why in a minute). We must have thought that we'd only need a day to see dwellings and then we'd blow out of there on to bigger and better things. The park accepts the Passport America discount for just one night offering full hookups for just $16.50 ( additional nights are $33).  The park was okay...but it was very windy that day and the site we were assigned was surprisingly not level but after a not so great travel day (aka a major case of the grumpies) we were happy to just be off the road.

Google maps had told us that Mesa Verde was *only* about 30 minutes down the road. Perfectly doable and, since we weren't sure if we wanted to stay longer than a night or two, we were happy to be saving a little money with our PA even with the drive added on. Well, what we didn't know was that from the visitors center to the actual Cliff Dwellings was another 21 miles of winding roads (or about 45 more minutes of driving). Our short-ish drive from the casino to save a few bucks was no longer a good deal. We postponed our adventure and opted to pre-purchase our tour tickets for a date later in the week.

Our site at La Mesa RV Park.

Not realizing that the altitude at Cortez was 6100 feet those giant margaritas kicked our asses at El Burro Pancho in Cortez. It might be the buzz talking but the food was pretty damn good too.
We decided to move a little closer to the National Park and found a decent spot in the heart of Cortez at La Mesa RV Park. This is a seriously no frills park that is half full of permanent residents but it's clean and the owner, Cherie, is the absolute best source of information in town. She can tell you everything there is to do in the area and give details on side roads, 4x4 trails, bike trails, restaurants and anything else you might need. She also allowed us to receive mail and an Amazon order. But be forewarned that this is just a small gravel park with a few trees, no playground and basically sits between a housing area and shopping center. Although we found it quiet and convenient as a home-base and happily stayed a full week if you're the type who likes a "pretty" RV park with space for the kids and dogs to run this probably isn't it.

Beautiful sculptor of an ancient Pueblo Indian scaling the cliff wall staircase.

 We spent a full day at the Cliff Dwellings touring the Balcony House in the morning and Cliff Palace in the early evening per the Ranger's suggestion. These were very inexpensive and we highly recommend joining a tour but even if you aren't able to accomplish the tour hikes (most involve stairs, ladders, elevations gains and can be prohibitive to those with injuries, disabilities and health issues...including fear of heights) there are plenty of great overlooks, a fantastic museum and research center and a free, fairly accessible dwelling called the Spruce Tree House that is equally impressive.

Our first challenge...the ladder.

Not for the weak of heart...
I might be smiling but my white knuckles tell a different story.
If you didn't know, I have a huge fear of heights...this climb was a major accomplishment for me.
Once inside you realize it was all worth it...

Took this one from inside one of the kivas.
The dwellings have some sheer drops...not a lot room of room for error. It's hard to not wonder if a few people might have gone over during the building of these walls...not to mention the children or drunk uncles...
 Even the views from the roads were great!

Cliff Palace
Square Tower House getting some walls secured.

Inside the park, near the Spruce Tree House and Research Center, is a ranger station, restaurant and gift store. We decided to pack our own lunch and have a picnic.

We spotted some wildlife in the park:

 And it was views like these that enticed us to extend our stay in the area for another 5 weeks. But that's a story for next time...

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