Mesa Verde National Park

Activity Date: 
06/18/2009

Today we drove over to Mesa Verde National Park to see the Anasazi ruins. Many of the ruins are only accessible via ranger guided tours. Other areas you may visit without a guide. We went on the guided Cliff Palace Tour and visited the Spruce Tree House on our own.

We had planned to spend two days at Mesa Verde going on all of the guided tours. But, after our first tour, we decided one tour (and therefore one day) was enough for us. The ruins at Mesa Verde are fabulous. But, honestly, the tour was just too painful to repeat.

Cliff Palace

This ruin is accessible only as part of a ranger guided tour. Without taking a tour, you can look down from the overlook and see this view of the ruins.

Cliff Palace from overlook

Cliff Palace itself was impressive, the tour was not. We had 50 people in our tour group. The tour only lasts one hour, but with all the waiting for 50 people to congregate each time the ranger moved the group, most of the time was spent just standing around waiting. It literally took 20 minutes for our tour group to move from the tour start point down to the first stopping point overlooking the Cliff Palace.

The 120 foot climb down has some minor challenges, including narrow, steep stairs and ladders.

Here we go...

Steep steps Metal stairs Ladder

After moving down to the first congregation point, we weren't in the ruins, but waiting just to the side for the other tour groups to move along. Hmmm... that took 10 more minutes. Well, while we are waiting, may as well take some more pictures.

Here is our view as we wait.

Cliff Palace with tour groups

Panning left a bit, we can see into the far corner.

Cliff Palace left corner

Finally, we moved into the ruins. We congregated our 50 people and stood some more. Here is our view at this point. Down at ground level, you can appreciate the two to three story structures.

Cliff Palace ground level

We then moved on to where the above pictured tour group is standing and listened some more. So, after we "entered" the ruins, our group stood in two different spots while the ranger talked. You can only see so much standing in one spot, so that was way too limiting.

From our second spot, we can at least look down into one of the eight ceremonial kivas. The ruins exit is visible in the upper right.

Cliff Palace kiva

Exiting the ruins involves more steep steps and another ladder. Whoa! We looked up from below and could see folks climbing out. It looks like they are scaling the rock. This is the camera zoomed way in (and up) on the person exiting.

Cliff Palace ladder climb

It's an illusion... they aren't climbing the rock face... there are stone steps and wooden ladders to get up and out.

Cliff Palace exist steps and ladder

This is the final ladder up over the top of the cliff.

Cliff Palace exist steps and ladder

As you can tell, we weren't too thrilled with the tour. Who wants to stand rooted in one spot? It's much more fun to be able to move around the ruins yourself. We decided to skip the other guided tours and check out the Spruce Tree House on our own.

As a side note, if you want to have fun walking through some nice ruins, visit Gila National Monument near Silver City, New Mexico.

Spruce Tree House

You can visit this ruin at your own pace. There were a couple of rangers present to answer questions, but otherwise you're left to your own devices. A little pamphlet is available to give general information about Spruce Tree House as well as for various numbered points within the ruin.

As with Cliff Palace you park above the ruin. In this case though, the walk down is a pretty easy paved trail. The top of the trail has a good view of the ruin.

Spruce Tree House from above

At ground level, you can get a really good view of the remaining walls and rooms.

Spruce Tree House ground level

This is an open ceremonial kiva.

Spruce Tree House open kiva

The ladders out of the floor are entries down into the covered ceremonial kivas. There was one off to the side that they allowed us to climb down into.

Spruce Tree House covered kivas

Here we are down in the covered kiva. It's pretty small. We're standing at one wall to take a full picture across.

Spruce Tree House inside covered kiva

The Mesa

That was all the time we had for visiting ruins today. The mesa stands high above the surrounding plains and there are views all directions. Here is a typical view.

A view of mountains from Mesa Verde

There is a short tunnel on one of the park roads.

A view of mountains from Mesa Verde

The tunnel seemed especially dark when we drove through. Hmmm.... It turns out that both of the car's headlights had burned out! We haven't done any driving after dark in quite a long time. With summer daylight hours, it's been staying light so late. Needless to say, we got new bulbs in Durango and we are ready again for driving in the dark.