Mesa Verde and Durango

Published: June 18th 2018
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Forest fire?Forest fire?Forest fire?

No, just another fantastic sunset picture
Dianne had rearranged our schedule so we wouldn’t be arriving at Mesa Verde on the U.S. Memorial Day weekend. A good plan. The National Park campground was listed as First-Come, First-Served. We got there early but when Dianne asked for 4 nights, she was told we could have Thursday and Friday but Saturday and Sunday were booked solid. Huh? What about First-Come, First-Served? It appears you still have to have a reservation but the reserved sites are handed out First-Come, First-Served. First time we have seen that. The woman at the desk did provide us with a reference to a commercial campground just outside the park that was actually quite nice. More about that later.

Mesa Verde National Park

One thing I found out about Mesa Verde after we were well into this trip is that it is in Colorado. “Duh!” says Dianne, “weren’t you paying attention during the planning phase?”

A couple of things offered up by Dr. Google are:

• With more than 4,300 sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, it is the largest archaeological preserve in the U.S. Mesa Verde (Spanish for "green table") is best known for structures such as Cliff Palace, thought to
Life saverLife saverLife saver

I didn't think it was going to rain on this trip so almost didn't take the canopy. That would have been a mistake. It sure provided some blessed shade in more than one location.
be the largest cliff dwelling in North America.
• Mesa Verde National Park has accessibility limitations for people with vision, hearing or mobility impairments. Visitors encounter rugged terrain at an elevation of 7,000 to 8,500 feet. Steep cliffs, deep canyons and narrow trails can be a danger to all visitors.

The latter comment sounds like a real sales pitch to me. There are a lot of ruins to see. Incredible to see where people built their homes. When you see how tortuous some of the roads are you have to stop and think that these folks did these trails on foot.

The visitor centre is at the base of the mesa and the road to the campground seemed long, winding, and steep. But once we were checked in and decided to go to the mesa, it turned out we were only part way there. We drove this winding road for what seemed forever and came to Far View Terrace. There was something in the sign on the building that caught my attention (see pictures) but it turned out we were still only part of the way to the end. The end turned out to be 27 miles from
View from the mesaView from the mesaView from the mesa

When you are on top of the mesa you can see for miles. (if this were Canada, you could see for kilometres)
the Visitor Centre!

Past the Far View Area there are two mesas you can visit. We chose the Wetherhill Mesa. We did the Step House trail first. It takes you down from the mesa to where the people lived. It is really unbelievable. There was a ranger led tour to the Long House but it was already fully booked when we got there. Luckily for me as it was very hot that day. We took the trail to the Long House Overlook and could see the tour group visiting the site. Our view of the trail they had to climb to get back to the mesa suggested we won that one.

Visitor Centre

Because it was so far from the campground to the visitor centre, we left it until we moved to the new campground right outside the park. The centre was great. There were many displays as well as helpful workers. Outside were tables staffed by university students eager share lots of information about the area.

Commercial Campground

The new location not only had a swimming pool and hot tub but a very nice lodge where we could play cards in the evening. It
Far View TerraceFar View TerraceFar View Terrace

With a name like this, I expected it to be near the end of the drive. It was closer to the beginning. But there was something about this place that interested me.
also had a pool table, a foosball game and a TV but we stuck to cards (and wine).

The only problem was the tent sites were a long way from the bathrooms. We are at the stage where middle-of-the-night calls of nature are not uncommon. It is interesting how the distance to the bathroom affects your need to use it.


We decided to take a break from looking at mesas, canyons, ruins etc. The city of Durango was about an hour east and it was the terminus of the Durango to Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway which has been running continuously since 1882. We thought we would check it out.

The historic part of Durango was pretty nice. It was the Sunday of the Memorial Day Weekend and they had all kinds of festivities relating to mountain biking running on the main streets. A very outdoor oriented community.

We decided the train was a bit expensive but spent a good part of the morning touring the excellent (and free) train museum. Naturally we had to visit the tourist information centre where we had two agents vying to give us advice on what to visit.

We didn't see any snakes in Utah but this picture shows the road snaking up and down and up and down as we head to the Wetherhill Mesa.

Pegosa Springs

There were a couple of choices of hot springs and we settled on Pegosa Springs, about an hour east of Durango. These naturally occurring springs feed 18 outdoor pools nestled along the San Juan River. The river itself looked pretty inviting but probably not as relaxing as the hot pools. A sign recommended shoes and I thought that was a bit unusual. Until I walked barefoot between two pools and realized how hot the sidewalks were.

The pools were all different temperatures starting about 94˚F. One was labelled “The Lobster Pot”. It was listed at 114˚F. I stepped in up to my ankles but immediately got out. There was one fellow sitting in the “Pot”. Not sure if he was done. We didn’t get in all 18 pools but sampled a good selection and had nice chats with a variety of people. Interesting to hear where they are from and where they are off to next. We have met many people doing the same tour we are as well as many doing the same tour, but in reverse.

It was a long drive back to the campground but a pleasant day none the less.
Information outpostInformation outpostInformation outpost

Twenty seven miles from the visitor centre we found this kiosk. It is the starting point for guided tours and many self directed hikes. All the sites have this kind of cover as there is no natural shade out there.

Back to Utah

Our short foray into Colorado ends tomorrow as we head to our next park, Hovenweep. Turns out half the park is in Colorado but you have to go to Utah to get in. The books says to follow the directions in the book; do not use a GPS. Should be interesting. ToBeContinued.

Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


Step HouseStep House
Step House

This is where the people who farmed the top of the mesa lived.
Petroglyphs Petroglyphs

We had a close-up view of some of the petroglyphs that were done by the ancestral Pueblo people.
The call of dutyThe call of duty
The call of duty

At Step House there is a ranger stationed at the house itself. They rotate in shifts but it can get pretty hot standing out in the beating sun talking to tourists.
The path down to Step HouseThe path down to Step House
The path down to Step House

Somewhere in that jumble of rock there is a path from the mesa to Step House. Puts our modern commute to work in perspective.
Long House OutlookLong House Outlook
Long House Outlook

We are some distance away looking down onto the Long House. The size of the people in this picture gives you an idea how big this place is.
Mesa Verde Visitor CentreMesa Verde Visitor Centre
Mesa Verde Visitor Centre

The National Parks and Monuments certainly know how to run information centres.
Rock formationRock formation
Rock formation

We just love to see the different ways the rock formations weather.
Durango on Memorial DayDurango on Memorial Day
Durango on Memorial Day

We had the same experience when we visited Montpellier, France last year. There they had an international mountain bike competition.
Historical DurangoHistorical Durango
Historical Durango

The late 1800s doesn't quite compare to the ruins from the 1200s in age. But they were a nice change.
We enjoy architectureWe enjoy architecture
We enjoy architecture

Looking at old buildings is one of our favorite pastimes when we travel.

OK. That's the last picture we took of buildings.
Train museumTrain museum
Train museum

Except for this one of the outside of the train museum. It was huge and very interesting. It contained a couple of locomotives as well as several vehicles and a massive model train layout with multiple trains runnings around a representation of the area. That's huge.

Someone went to a lot of trouble to put these displays together. And the museum was free. Of course, they had a donation jar at the exit with a sign "If you enjoyed your visit, please consider making a donation". We did.
Sign of the timesSign of the times
Sign of the times

We love taking pictures of odd signs. This door at the back of the coffee shop was propped open (it was very hot). Why wasn't the alarm ringing?
San Juan RiverSan Juan River
San Juan River

This river runs through Pegosa Springs. It was incredibly popular. Swimming, rafting, kayaking, and just cooling off.
The Hot SpringsThe Hot Springs
The Hot Springs

It seemed odd to visit hot springs when the weather was so hot. But somehow it seemed right. The pools are right along the river. You can walk down some steps right into the river to cool off.

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