In years back when I thought about visiting this park one day, I felt it would be mainly to see a few ruins in perhaps a nice setting in the mountains. After our two full days in this park and surrounding areas I know now how wrong I was. This 81 Sq mile National Park leaves a person with more than merely having a look a mud and brick-like ruins here and there, take a few pictures and off to the next destination. These two long days of hikes, viewing the canyons, museums, overlooks and taking ranger led tours has left me in awe. Between this park, the tour of Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients I feel I have just had a crash course in geography, history, anthropology, and archeology. How lucky we all are to have such places to visit. You can’t help but try to imagine what life must have been like in AD1200. These dwellings just make you stop & take in the emotion.
Mesa Verde National Park, created in 1906, is open all year. However, what we found out is not all the ruins are open all year. Even Spruce Tree House, while it is open most of the time, can be closed due to ice or snow on the trail so it you have your heart set on visiting the dwellings up close, call ahead for the schedule or present conditions. We arrived April 6th planning to stay maybe 3 nights. After our first trip up to Mesa Verde we realized that “Cliff Palace” ruins would not open until the end of the week. Our plans changed to be able to see this amazing dwelling far up in the cliffs of the Chapin Mesa above Cliff Canyon.
After a stop at the Visitor Center, we began our drive up to see the Chapin Mesa Museum and Spruce Tree House ruins. Time allowed us to take the Mesa Top Loop auto tour with about 12 stops at various overlooks and up close viewing of many pueblo ruins on this first visit. The drive from the visitor center at the valley level to the upper visitor center takes about an hour. Many of the buildings at the upper level were built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps)
SPRUCE TREE HOUSE
Spruce Tree House is the third-largest village, within several hundred feet of a spring, and had 130 rooms and eight kivas. It was constructed sometime between AD 1211 and 1278. It is believed anywhere from 60 to 80 people lived there at one time. Because of its protective location, it is well preserved.
This was our first hike of the day. It’s a fairly easy walk along a paved path but it does drop in elevation about 150 feet. This computes to 150 feet up to get back to the museum. At an elevation of 7000, this adds a little energy factor to this hike due to the fact the switchbacks are quite tightly woven. It is, however, one of the easiest hikes of the ruins.
This is the only ruin, other than the one at “ Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum“, that I know of that allows the public to actually enter a Kiva. The main rule in general is stay off the dwellings, don’t touch any artifacts so that these dwellings can remain intact for years to come. Merely the oil from our skin can cause damage.
The first day in the park we could only view the Cliff palace from across the canyon. I took these pictures from across the canyon with a zoom lens. This dwelling is quite a distance from the Mesa Loop road. Zoom lenses help bring things closer.
April 11th was the season opening of the Cliff Palace tour. The people below were on the tour just ahead of us. They are gathered around the Kiva listening to the Ranger’s interpretive program.
Click on a photo below to enlarge the view in a gallery format
Next a visit to the Cortez airport to discover some surprising history.