On our visit to Mesa Verde National Park, we took two guided tours and a short hike. The cliff dwellings are amazing, and Cliff Palace from above is an iconic view.
So we were on the road to Mesa Verde National Park by 8:00.
It was only 13 miles from our campsite to the national park entrance. But it was another 15 miles into the park before we got to the visitors center.
Once in the park, we were stunned by the amount of dead trees. Later we learned that the park has had numerous wildfires over the years. Unfortunately, it makes for a lot of sad, ugly landscape.
In the 15 miles to the visitors center, there are a few turnouts along the way at overlooks. But we wanted to get our tickets for the guided tours early, so we didn't stop.
This is the view from back of the visitors center.
Basically, the Park has one road coming in from U.S. Highway 160. Then, after the visitors center, there are two roads that split off. One goes to Chapin Mesa and the other goes to Wetherill Mesa. Each mesa has accessible ancient Puebloan dwelling ruins.
By the way "mesa" is Spanish for "table". So mesas are flat-top hills or mountains that protrude up from the flat lands. And "verde" is green so Mesa Verde is Spanish for "green table".
There are three large ruins, two on Chapin Mesa (Cliff Palace & Balcony House), and one on Wetherill Mesa (Long House), that are only accessible via ranger-guided tours at $3 per person. The person we talked to said it would take all day of driving to do all three guided tours, so we decided to do the two on Chapin Mesa.
We drove another 5 miles to the Cliff Palace parking area for our 10:00 tour. They run tours every half hour with about 50 people.
There were just too many people for my tastes. And they ran the tours so that there were actually three tours going on at the same time. Not only were the numbers of people distracting, but the rangers were talking over each other as well.
Now don't get me wrong, these cliff dwellings are amazing!
But we missed the quiet, respectful atmosphere that was promoted at Bandelier National Monument.
Our guide was very knowledgeable, and it was an informative tour.
The climb out from Cliff Palace was interesting with ladders and narrow rock walls.
Next, we drove to the location for the Balcony House tour.
A distant view of big mountains beyond the canyon from the tour waiting area.
One of the many canyons dividing the mesas as we walked toward the Balcony House.
The Balcony House tour had fewer people - probably because it is more strenuous. It included a 35-foot ladder,
narrow passage ways,
and a small, square tunnel we had to crawl through on hands and knees at the exit.
Our guide this time was more personable than the first one, and I actually enjoyed this tour a little more.
This dwelling had a wall dividing the alcove in two. This shot is through the window to the other side.
Pretty cool stuff. This dwelling has two large kivas.
After crawling out and scrambling up rock steps on the cliff ledge (there was a barrier and rails for us), I kept imagining how the people used to get in and out of the dwelling without the ladders using only hand holds and foot holds in the rocks to climb. Scary.
After both our tours, it was about 1:30 so we went to the cafe' on Chapin Mesa near the park headquarters and museum for lunch.
After lunch, Linda suggested we do a hike. So we did the Spruce Canyon Trail - a little over two mile loop down into a canyon and then back up.
The good news was it was very quiet and we didn't see a soul. But it didn't have any spectacular vistas, great rock formations, waterfalls, streams, or much in the way of birds or wildlife.
After that, we were ready to go.
Moving toward the exit we did stop at one of the overlooks and took a couple of nice shots.
Here you can really see the edge of the mesa.
We might have enjoyed our Mesa Verde visit more had we not been to other cliff dwellings and taken other tours on our way here. But for me, the two tours we had were just more of the same, on a larger scale with LOTS more people and more of a "commercial" feel rather than "this is a sacred place" feel.
Am I saying skip Mesa Verde? Absolutely not!
I'm still not sure I can really put my finger on the experience. I suppose it was just a combination of things. I didn't have extraordinarily high expectations, so that wasn't the problem.
Linda believes that it was simply the crowds and it took away from the way we like to experience nature and places like the cliff dwellings - quietly and on our own.
We both liked Bandelier National Monument better, although the ruins at Mesa Verde are much more impressive. But Bandelier had far less people, prettier scenery, and several admonitions to be quiet and respectful for that sacred place.
Again, I would never say to skip Mesa Verde - as I said before, the cliff dwellings are amazing. But on our next visit, I will check into some of the back-country tours, the self-guided tours, and some of the special tours with fewer people. I think our experience would be much better under those circumstances.