Ok, a little stressful getting here, but, we made it. Good thing John helped us find that side panel for the RV because the crosswinds were really cooking on our ride from Gallup, New Mexico up to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. We made it, on schedule, to connect back up with Arthur & Linda who had gone ahead of us and found a great place for an awesome mountain bike ride.
We spent three nights here, camping inside the national park. Thats not always possible due to the size of the RVs we have and even then, its not always that good of an idea, anyway. But, here, it was a great call. Arthur & Linda had been to this park previously and knew that Morefield Campground would be a nice place to stay. It was!
We purchased tickets for three tours in two days. Here, the cliff dwellings are the big things to see and you need to be part of a Ranger-guided tour to get in to the main ones; Cliff Palace,. Long House and Balcony House.
This entire park really is on a mesa, well, two of them actually. While approaching the park and prior to knowing where, exactly, it was, we looked up at this “mountain” and thought, wow, how would anyone ever get up there? Right, that turned out to be exactly where we were going. The Morefield Campground is on the Chaplin Mesa as are the Cliff Palace and Balcony House cliff dwellings. The Long House cliff dwelling and the self-guided tour of the Step House cliff dwelling are on Wetherhill Mesa, close to an hours drive further from the campground. Overall, this park covers 52,485 acres and was established on 6-20-1906.
The Anasazi people, now being commonly referred to as Ancestral Puebloans, moved here about 550 AD from what is now the Four Corners region of the Southwest and spent over 700 years here. At first, they were farming the land and hunting while living in Pit Houses. Eventually they evolved to building above ground structures and finally leveraged their building skills to create the cliff dwellings, some one room houses, others community centers of up to 150 rooms as found at Cliff Palace and Long House. It is estimated that these two cliff dwellings were built between 1190 and 1270. However, by 1300, the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings were deserted. Nobody knows why, exactly. Some hypotheses suggest severe draught and crop failures, depleted natural resources, social and political issues, security or simply a desire to explore new opportunities elsewhere.
Our first visit was to Balcony House. It required climbing a long ladder and crawling through a couple of short tunnels.
Then it was on to Cliff Palace which had us climbing four different ladders, though none as challenging as the one at Balcony House.
The people that lived here would climb from their alcove villages to the mesa tops above or the canyons below using hand-and-toe holds carved into the rock for hunting and farming.
The next day we explored Wetherhill Mesa starting with the Ranger-led tour of Long House. Then a bicycle ride on the six mile Long House Loop paved trail through the Badger House Community that shows 600 years of changing architectural styles. Finally, a stop at the self-guided hike to the Step House cliff dwelling.
Amazing how these people were able to create such a large community in and among the cliffs of this beautiful place.