Site #12; W/S/E; wi-fi varied from excellent to slow; cellular coverage was poor.
The campground location could not be better. There are views of Mesa Verde and La Plata Mountains from the site. The Mesa Verde visitor center is literally a 2 minute drive. All sites are pull through and mostly identical.
Mesa Vere hovers over the campground.
There is a back section for big rigs that we can't evaluate, but most of the lower sites are adequate. All sites are gravel and narrow with barely enough width of grass to hold the picnic table.
Our assigned site was #2, but we quickly asked to be moved as it was the narrowest in the park. They were happy to let us move and gave us a couple options. Our next option was site 7, but as we were hooking up our power conditioner registered a ground fault error. I then went to three other sites to confirm that they were OK before asking if we could move again. Again they were pleasant and allowed us to move to site 12. The downside was that we were out of the shade sites, but we were slightly higher and had a slightly better view.
Horses along the side of the campground.
Bottom line is that I would still highly recommend this campground if going to Mesa Verde. The location can't be beat and the staff were accommodating overcoming the technical problems.
WOW. A Must see. Seems that every place we go is more majestic than the last and this is truly one of the most spectacular places I've ever seen. When the park was created in 1906, it was said to have “one of the grandest and most extensive views in the country.” I have to agree as the view from Park Point (the parks' highest point), is almost limitless in every direction. And there are the cliff dwellings which were interesting AND beautiful.
The initial exciting thing is driving up the park road which had many hairpin 20 mph turns on cliff edges - some without guardrails. The road quickly rises from the visitors center at 7,000 feet, to over 8,000 feet. Park Point overlook tops out at 8,572 feet.
The La Plata Mountains from the Park Road.
Looking at the northern edge of Mesa Verde from Montezuma Valley Overlook.
The surprising thing to me was that once on the mesa, it was anything but flat. Millions of years of erosion has cut deep canyons (I guess if there weren't canyons there wouldn't be any cliff dwellings). Even more surprising to me were the valleys. It is like a separate world on the mesa. The high point on the park road is about half way down the road, before you start to gradually descend.
The road forks to two different mesas (Chapin and Wetherill). We went to Chapin which has more things to see and is a better road.
History and Background:
Here's a brief snapshot of what we learned from speaking to a ranger, a tour guide, and reading. From about 550 to 1190 AD the ancestral Puebloans lived on top of the mesa - first in pit houses (a shallow pit with wood walls and roof). Over time they developed improving masonry skills building walled shelters. During this time they pretty much cleared the top of the mesas of trees for farming and built a large reservoir for irrigation.
From 1190 – 1270 AD they started to build their villages below overhanging cliffs. Cliff Palace and Long House had about 150 rooms and Mesa Verde had several thousand inhabitants. The ancestral Puebloans lived in the cliff dwellings for less than 100 years. No one knows why they left, but they do know that they went south – primarily to New Mexico, but also Arizona.
The tour guide for Cliff House told us that these ancient people had a very strict discipline of teaching their oral history to their children. Children had to repeat a story word for word or else repeat it from the beginning. From these stories researches are able to link a present day Pueblo village in New Mexico to the Long House cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde.
Our tour of area:
The tour guide amusingly told us that while no one knows for sure why they left the cliff dwellings, one could speculate – there was an extensive drought during this period, the close confines of the community may have been too much (people wanted more space), they may have wanted to get away from the other neighbors, etc. When a present day Puebloan was asked why his people left the cliffs over a century ago, he replied “It was time.” Our guide stated that is a perfect answer. Whether there was a drought – it was time, whether they weren't getting along with their neighbors – it was time, etc.
Photos of the Pueblo villages at the Far View Area with Coyote Village, Far View House, and Pipe Shrine House
A lone carved adobe brick from almost a thousand years ago.
Far View Reservoir
To see most of the cliff dwellings, you need to buy a ticket ahead of time at the visitor center. I went on the 3PM tour of Cliff Palace – the largest and easiest to get to. All of the cliff dwellings involve some steep irregular stone steps and ladders. Balcony House is the hardest to do with a 32' ladder, a 60' open cliff face with stone steps, and an 18” wide 12' long tunnel to crawl through! By contrast, Cliff Palace only had 4 shorter ladders with 100' elevation change.
Our tour guide was very good and provided more information than I can remember. I'll let the photos tell the rest.
Cliff Palace from the access trail.
A tour group ahead of ours at Cliff Palace.
The following photos show some of the other cliff dwellings.
Sandy waves as I get a closer look at the Spruce Tree House.
Balcony House is high on the canyon edge!
A view of Cliff House from Sun Temple overlook
Mesa top is flat over the canyons
Square Tower House.
Cousins Scott and Lori told us to visit Durango and we're glad they did. Once again we felt lucky in that the day we went there Main Ave was closed for a street art and craft fair. It was a beautiful day. There were many American Indian artists. We especially liked the Puebloan black and horse hair pottery, Navajo rugs, and paintings. There was also a flute player playing music from the Andes. He was so good I wanted to talk to him, but he wouldn't stop playing!
Great Coffee / Chocolate shop.
Example of horse hair pottery
Puebloan black pottery