Days 8-9 - Mesa Verde
A misnomer, Mesa Verde is not really a Mesa (well, not one single one anyway), but compared to the other sites we’ve visited thus far it is much greener. It consists of 81 square miles that contain very elevated archeological preserves-over 5000 sites which include 600 cliff dwellings of the ancient Pueblo people, the largest site of its kind in the USA. Over the course of 1 ½ days, we drove to the top twice, took a tour of the best preserved of all the sites- the Cliff Palace, visited the museum there, and had a wonderful visit and dinner with a good friend of Jim’s.
Tuesday afternoon, was the first part of our visit. Stopped at the visitor center to get our tickets for the following days ranger-led tour to the Cliff House Palace. We had been warned that it takes an hour to get there, but we had no idea! The elevation at the visitor's center is about 6500 feet or so. The only road up to everything is a two-lane meandering climb up to 8572 feet at its highest elevation, although it comes back down to 7500, give or take. Our tour was for Wednesday morning, but since we had a lot of time, we decided to go up that afternoon just to see what it was like. Jim is a great driver, but Wendy's teeth were tired from clenching all the way up. Tons of switchbacks (we used to call them hairpin turns, but who knows what a hairpin is these days!)' crooked zig-zaggy sections, and a tunnel were only some of the hair-raising sections. We went through several fire-swept areas (over 55% of the park has burned at various times over the past 20 years), beautiful vistas, and overlooks, and finally arrived about ⅔rds of the way up at the museum. We enjoyed a quick tour, watched a movie, and decided to call it a day, since we had at least a 45 minute drive ahead of us.
Back to the cute town of Cortez and our campground. Jim's good friend, Hal Rosenthal moved to New Mexico last spring, and decided to take a "roadtrip " on his Harley 400 miles to meet us for dinner! We enjoyed our extended afternoon and evening with him at a local farm to table restaurant in Cortez. We hope to return the favor sometime in the future (although not on a Harley).
Wednesday morning, yet another early rising to get to the park, and up the winding road to our tour. This time it did take the full hour, and was well worth the effort. Our ranger (originally from Wilton, Ct., a stones throw from Norwalk where Wendy grew up) was extremely knowledgeable and led us down uneven stone steps, and up ladders to arrive at Cliff Palace. Built around the year 1280 out of sandstone and mortar, we walked through the ruins as we learned a lot about Pueblo customs, living, use of resources, and heritage.
After the tour, we followed the Mesa Top Loop road in our rv to see examples of pit houses, kivas, and other examples of the evolvement of Pueblo living from 1200 thru about 1400 in this area.
One last harrowing drive down the Mesa and heading out to Durango. We have given ourselves a much needed day off tomorrow to catch our breath, sleep later than 7 am, work on this blog, and do chores.