Thursday, 15 May 2008

Mesa Verde, Colorado

After re-planning our route many weeks ago, I thought that I wouldn't get to see the Rockies or visit Colorado. One of my dreams for this trip was to see both Colorado and the Rockies. This week my dream came true and we are now happily driving through a very cold Colorado.

Our first stop in Colorado was at the Mesa Verde National Park. Our of all the national parks we have visited, this has been the most expensive. We didn't have to pay the $25 entry charge as we have an 'America The Beautiful' pass that we bought at the start of our trip. At $80 for a year, it has really saved us money on tall the $20 park entries we would have had to pay. However, camping in Mesa Verde was expensive. Camping with hookups was almost $50 a night (which for a national park is phenomenal). Dry camping was $28 a night. We consider $10 a night to be about right for dry camping. Therefore we dry camped in the park for just one night.
The camp site itself was set in the forest and although we were parked on a slope (not good for sleeping without water retention) we were lucky enough to see several Mule Deer wandering around our RV throughout the evening.

The following morning we got up early to spend the day visiting the park. Mesa Verde is famous for its cliff dwellings. 800 years ago the Pueblo Indian people left the brick built cliff dwellings that are dotted across the canyon. There were as many as 600 homes built into the cliffs at the time. They Pueblo Indians lived in the area for 800 years before migrating south into New Mexico and Arizona, where they still reside today. Many of the buildings still stand, in fantastic condition after so many hundreds of years. Some of the dwellings are available to walk around, but to really appreciate the larger dwellings, we had to take a ranger tour (at a cost of $3 each). This was the first park to charge for ranger led activities.
We bought tickets for all five of us to visit the Cliff Palace, and a ticket for just Dan to visit the Balcony House dwelling. Visiting the cliff palace involved a strenuous climb down steps into the canyon, and a scary climb up three ladders fixed onto the cliff walls, in between some narrow canyons. The Indian people did not use ladders, they used toe and hand holds which were chiseled into the rock. Once into the cliff palace area we were virtually hidden from the rest of the world, in a small village with a huge window into the canyon. The ranger talked about the Pueblo people, how the buildings were made, what they were used for and many other things. Amazingly after all these years, we were still allowed to walk around the buildings, to touch things and explore. We sat and thought about what life would have been like to the people who lived there. In the summer they would have coped with extreme heat and dryness, in winter freezing snow and cold. The area would have been noisy with children and turkeys running around the place. There would have been strong smells from all the cooking (typically they ate squirrel, mouse or rabbit stew). It was a real adventure to climb down to the palace and to think about past cultures and ways of life.

After our tour of the cliff palace (which incidentally isn't actually a palace) the kids and I stopped for lunch whilst Dan took one of the scarier tours on his own. The tour into Balcony House comes with warnings about claustrophobia and vertigo. We thought it was best to let Dan go on his own. To get in and out of the dwelling he had to clamber through the tiniest man made corridor through rock (one of the larger men in the group had to lay on his side to wiggle through, and Dan actually thought he was going to get permanently wedged inside!) Then he had to climb up vertical ladders, for many feet up steep cliff edges. It certainly wasn't a tour for anyone with a fear of heights or confined spaces. Dan however, loved the tour and relished the chance to explore without the constant chatter of the kids!

At the end of the day as we drove out of the park, a wild coyote stopped in front of us in the middle of the road! We stopped the RV and stared at the coyote, as he stared back at us. We didn't get a photo, and he slowly slinked off into the woods. We were so excited to see a coyote after hearing them howl at the moon so many nights.

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