Road Trip: Mesa Verde National Park

April 22, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Colorado became the 38th state to join the United States on August 1, 1876. The capital city is Denver. The highest point is Mt. Elbert at 14,433 feet.

Road Trip 2013 - Day 13 - June 23 - Mesa Verde (Previous 2013 Road Trip posts: Indiana DunesDe ImmigrantAmana ColoniesDes MoinesMadison County Roads, Bridges of Madison CountyWhite Pole Road, Great Platte River Road Archway MonumentGolden Spike Tower & Union Pacific's Bailey Rail Yard, Loveland PassThe Resting Day at Powderhorn, Black Canyon of the GunnisonCimarronColorado National MonumentFruita RodeoArches National ParkGrand Junction, Grand Mesa CreekArches National Park Add-On, Canyonlands National ParkThe Little Big Moments of Road Tripping)

Cliff Palace - Mesa Verde National ParkCliff PalaceMesa Verde National Park

As we drove south through Utah and turned back east into southern Colorado, our 2013 Road Trip turned into its third and final leg that would take us back to the starting point in Buffalo, NY. It would also bring us out of the nature of the national parks and into civilization.

Mesa Verde was a great place for this transition. Still a national park, however, not really protecting nature but rather cultural heritage. And the civilization that used to live there belonged to days long gone by - about 700 years.

Mesa Verde National Park is large and can easily provide activities for several days. I'd recommend one full day as a minimum. The Things To Do page on is a great place to start planning your visit and to get an idea about what you can squeeze into a single day. We went on the guided tour of the Cliff Palace and Balcony House, and wrapped the day up on a self-guided tour of the Spruce Tree House.

Cliff Palace Window in Sunlight - Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (CO)Cliff Palace Window in SunlightMesa Verde National Park The whole experience was very interactive. The guides were great, knew a lot, and their presentation was engaging for both adults and children. Talking about children, if you are planning on bringing them along and they like physical activity or gym or playgrounds they should enjoy visiting. On one hand, they will learn something new and on the other, there will be enough walking and climbing to provide some physical activity for them. Based on the tour you choose, there may be some fun tall ladders to climb that also provide great views into the valley below. If you have any concerns about your physical readiness, the high elevation the park is in (7,000 feet), or visiting with children, the park has a nice web page that can serve as your guide at Visit a Cliff Dwelling.

Photographically, this was a different ball game than either natural landscapes or cityscapes. It was so much fun though! The overall photos were somewhat of a challenge due to the frequent tour groups passing through and the dwelling never staying empty for long. I was actually surprised to catch them like that at all. Another factor was lighting as the sun was strong that day but the dwellings were hiding under a rocky overhang.

Once inside, I really enjoyed looking for details, close ups, juxtapositions, textures, and patterns. In these compositions, the strong contrast seemed to be more of an advantage than a problem. I had fun looking for brightly lit areas against deep shadows, like in the photo of the window here on the right. I soon realized that no matter how slow I moved it still felt like rushing. I could have easily spent a whole day at a single dwelling and not run out of new perspectives for my eyes and my camera.

Once we got our fix on the guided tour of the two beautiful dwellings we enjoyed a slow drive through the park towards the Spruce Tree House. It was getting somewhat late but knowing we'd be on our own and could do as much or as little as we wanted everybody was relaxed and just soaking in the days gone by.

Recovering from Wildfire - Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (CO)Recovering from WildfireMesa Verde National Park

We came upon a burnt down area of dead wood that was already coming back to life even though only with new grass. It's always amazing to see the natural recovery process. Looking at the photo I am always reminded of the Devastation Trail in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park where lava eradicated anything alive in its path, yet, ferns were able to find a way to grow and start breaking the layers apart back into fertile soil. Here in Mesa Verde, it was fire that raged through but as you can see, grasses and other small plants already found their way back.

The self-paced tour of the Spruce Tree House was excellent! We could explore, move back and forth, and just do our own thing. For my photography, it worked really well too as I could work my compositions slowly and look for angles I liked the most. It was really late by then too and the crowds were gone.

I liked starting with the guided tour and finishing on our own as it helped knowing what we were looking at.

Spruce Tree House - Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (CO)Spruce Tree HouseMesa Verde National Park

Spruce Tree House - Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Enjoy the beauty that surrounds you!

ReferencesColorado on - Things To Do - Visit a Cliff Dwelling - Cliff Palace - Spruce Tree House - Mesa Verde National Park - Mesa Verde Fire History

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