September 28- 29, 2018: Mesa Verde, Colorado
On our way to the Grand Canyon we stopped at the Mesa Verde National Park area. We knew we wanted to spend some time touring the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park so we boondocked for the night off Highway 160, County Road 32, and back on BLM land. There are actually 12 designated camping spots and we decided on #7. The road in was a little narrow with a deep rut on the side from prior rains. To get into our spot, it was a little up, down, and off kilter so we took our time getting in and did not scrape anything. We went to the back of the spot, set up the trailer, unhooked, and headed off to explore Mesa Verde at about 1pm.
Road driving into the BLM camp area
Awesome view of the Mesa Verde area behind our camper
Wow...if you nave never been to Mesa Verde National Park, add it to your bucket list. What an incredible, amazing, and historical place! The Ancestral Pueblo people lived here from about A.D. 550 to A.D. 1300s. They had pit houses and farming up on the mesa and then built cliff houses along the canyon walls.
The day before we had purchased tickets (in Durango for $5 p/person) to tour the Balcony House, so we spent about an hour in the Visitor Center and then drove along the Chapin Mesa (about an hour drive) to the Balcony House for our tour. Along the way, we stopped by Cliff House to view it from the platform, the Cliff House tours had closed for the season about a week ago. Cliff House is the most famous and most recognizable of the Cliff Houses.
Craig at Cliff House and then a zoomed in picture of it
This is the view from the Cliff House
On the tour of Balcony house, it was...INCREDIBLE. To be walking in a cliff house that was built in A.D. 1100...I cannot even describe the feeling.
To get to the dwelling, we descended a llloonnnggg set of steps, walked along a canyon wall, climbed a 32' ladder, crawled through a narrow 12' tunnel, and then climbed two other 12' and 14' ladders to get out. We could look into the individual rooms, see where the fires had been, see where they ground their corn, beans, or squash that they grew on the mesa, and where they got their water from. We learned about the Kiva's (ceremonial pit in the ground) and other areas of their lifestyle.
Descending the stairs to Balcony House
Craig starting his climb up the 32' ladder
Almost at the top! It was not as bad as I thought, just slow with others in front of us
Craig made it to the top and is ready to take pictures of me climbing the ladder
Craig starting to go through another small opening to get to the main living areas
Me going through a narrow passageway from one section to another section
Craig coming out of one small connecting passageway
This is where he came out, not sure if this is living quarters or where they stored their foods, or both
The main living area. Notice the two holes in the ground, those are both Kivas.
This is a Kiva - imagine it having a wood pole roof with clay over it so that you could walk and sit on top of it. There was a hole in the center with a ladder going down into the Kiva and it also allowed for smoke to exit. This is where it is believed they held ceremonial events
Imagine walls around these perimeters. This room was where they ground their corn, beans, etc.
This was the longest tunnel we had to pass. It was 12' long and originally the only entrance or exit into the dwelling. Yes...we crawled on hands and knees.
The last set of ladders to climb out of the dwelling. One 12' with a small stepped area to walk on then a 14' ladder to the top! I am going first this time!
Craig just starting on the first ladder
I will add that after seeing their building techniques from a pit house to cliff dwelling, to a kiva....Craig and I are thinking "How can we build a pit house in Boise or the Baja?" Don't be surprised if you see us come up with something : ) From an energy efficiency standpoint, it would be amazing!
After touring the Balcony House, we visited the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and had to rush through the museum and were unable to hike a lot of the trails because the park closes at sunset. We contemplated staying another night so we could go back and finish exploring the Chapin Mesa and Wetherill Mesa, however, most of the cliff dwellings were either closed for repair, the season, or booked until Monday. So we opted to enjoy the 6 1/2 hours we had and move on.
Spruce Tree House - closed until it can be stabalized
As we are going through these National Parks, I am realizing how many of them were started by Theodore Roosevelt. I appreciate the fact that he cared enough about North America, culture, and protecting lands.
If you ever make it to the Mesa Verde National Park, I would recommend to plan for 2 days minimum. Visit the Vistor Center first, then the Archeological Museum, then...pay for and do each cliff dwelling that you can. Even 2 days may not be enough! Oh...and you need to buy your tickets to tour the dwellings in person, in advance! You can do this at the Durango Visitor Center or I am sure other Colorado Visitor Centers nearby.
As we rolled back into our camp at 7:30pm, we noticed that someone had decided to boondock in the same location as us. At first it irritated me, since we had gotten there so early to get it. However, the space was big and still afforded privacy for both of us and if we needed a spot, I would hope that someone would be nice enough to share their space with us. So....live and let live and that is what boondocking is all about.
Sunset as we drove out of the Mesa Verde National Park.