May 21, 2016
Mesa Verde is home to ancient cliff dwellings, and has been on our list of places to visit for a long time. It is a World Heritage Site that was once occupied by the Pueblo people over 700 years ago. It’s residents left around 1300 A.D., and the site went untouched until the late 1800’s. Although the main attraction, Spruce House, is closed to the public because of falling rocks, we knew that there were other tours of cliff dwellings available.
The visitor center is beautiful and has a magnificent view from the picnic area:
There are two Mesa’s that you can drive to. Chapin Mesa and Wetherill Mesa. Step House (self-guided) and Long House (ticket required) are on Wetherill Mesa. Spruce Tree House (self-guided), Cliff Palace (ticket required) and Balcony House (ticket required) are on Chapin Mesa. The tours are $4/person. We chose Balcony House since the description said, “…the most adventurous cliff dwelling tour.” This is due to the rigorous nature of the tour. Besides starting at an elevation of 7,000 ft, you are required to climb a 30′ ladder and crawl through a 12′ tunnel that is only 2′ wide. Our visit was early in the season, and we were able to buy tickets at the visitor center for the next tour. The website for Mesa Verde also allows you to book a tour, and will inform you of any closures in the park. From the visitor center the ranger told us that it would be about a 25 mile drive to the museum where there was a 25 minute video to watch. Outside of the museum is a vista point looking at Spruce House.
As with other national parks there is a $10/car fee to enter, unless you are a pass-holder.
After taking a couple pictures of Spruce House, we drove to the Balcony House tour parking area. There was plenty of parking and restrooms. This tour is not ADA-friendly as you need to be able to climb ladders and crawl through tiny spaces. It was definitely fun and challenging in places!
32 foot ladder to get to the dwellings. This was built by the park and is not representative of how the natives accessed their home.
Small tunnel and then a short couple steps up to get to the main floor.
This was an actual balcony that has not been renovated. This is the original from when they excavated this site.
1 of 2 Kiva’s on site. Neither of them had their roofs on them.
The entire house.
This was the entrance and exit that the residents would have used. It was about 10 feet long.
Again, these ladders were made for us to be able to get out of the area. There were two 10′ ladders to get up. The natives were rock climbers and used hand and foot holes carved in to the rocks to get up and down.
It was definitely worth the long drive. We didn’t end up doing any of the hikes, but the two popular ones are Petroglyph Point Loop (2.4 miles r/t) and Soda Canyon Overlook (1.2 miles r/t). The other suggestion was the Mesa Top Loop drive. It is a 6 mile loop with multiple stops.
The site is remarkably preserved. Little is known about the departure of the people who lived here, but carbon dating shows that they exited 700-800 years ago. We are very fortunate to get a glimpse of how they lived their life, and find it incredulous that their architecture and craftsmanship has stood the test of time. Imagine your own house lasting 800 years.