I’m a bit of a procrastinator so this post is now wildly overdue according to the unofficial deadline in my head that has long since passed. But that’s the beauty of living in an RV, being a rather unprofessional/less-than-dedicated assistant blogger, the deadlines don’t matter much. And don’t let the brevity of this post or the fact that we only spent two days at Mesa Verde National park fool you, we loved this park. The vistas, the varied landscape, the ever-changing spring weather, the unusually friendly park rangers, and most especially the cliff dwellings in this park are amazing. Sure the lone campground is wildly overpriced for what you get, but beggars can be choosers if you want to stay in the park.
Chances are you haven’t heard much about Mesa Verde National Park. And it’s a shame. The park is spectacular. And really only about a two hour drive from Moab, which many people use as a hub to do Arches and perhaps Canyonlands. Do yourself a favor, if you are planning a trip to Arches, find a way to add Mesa Verde to your itinerary.
Mesa Verde is home to some of the best preserved, most intricate cliff dwellings in the world. Pair that with stunning landscapes and vistas and you have a recipe for a great 1-2 day experience.
We spent two nights at Mesa Verde and this seemed like the perfect amount of time to do roughly 85% of what the park had to offer at the time we were there. Be sure to sign up for one (or more) of the very affordable ranger guided tours of a cliff dwelling. This is the best, most interesting way to get up-close-and-personal with the park’s best features. Tours only run late spring-early fall due to weather and closings of the dwellings are frequent for research and preservation purposes. Chances are, not all of the tours will be available during your visit.
The park essentially sits on top of several mesas with the Pueblo cliff dwellings located just below. However, getting to them frequently requires some comfort with ladders and some steep hiking. Nothing all that dangerous, but not the easiest entry to a park feature, just something to be aware of. The tour we were fortunate enough to take was of Balcony House (most of the dwellings are referred to as houses) led by Ranger Kim. The tour lasted roughly two hours and involved some serious ladder climbing and a bit of crawling to get into some of the rooms open to our tour group of 50.
While the park is visually stunning, the preservation work, research, and educational efforts by park staff are to be commended. We learned a ton about the semi-nomadic prehistoric peoples who inhabited these dwellings and were struck by how many unanswered questions there are about them and their decision to leave the area (drought is the chief suspect).
Most folks spend only one day at Mesa Verde visiting Chapin Mesa. We’d suggest adding a day or at least making it a point to visit Wetherill Mesa as well. This part of the park gets only about 25% of the traffic and is just as spectacular as Chapin. In fact, you’re much more likely to see wildlife in this area.
There are several cliff dwellings throughout the park that aren’t on any park map. There are simply dwellings everywhere, and if you take the time to look for them you will definitely see some that you’ll swear you are the first to discover (you aren’t).
Mesa Verde has been one of the most delightful surprises for us thus far in our travels. We simply can’t recommend it enough, especially if you are already planning to be “in the neighborhood” to see Arches or happen to be visiting Durango, Colorado. Just go. Seriously.