From the observation station at MesaVerde National Park in the state of Colorado, the first sighting of multi-storied cliff dwellings built by the ancient Puebloans is almost overwhelming. Puebloans, ancestral peoples of the Hopis, Zunis, Utes, and Navajos, lived in the area from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1300, predating the arrival of Europeans on to the continent by more than 800 years.
The citadel they built nestles precariously in cavernous alcoves carved out of vertical rock walls and separated from awestruck visitors by an immense chasm. These ancient structures are framed by piñon pines, Utah junipers, bristling yucca, a paucity of green vegetation, rugged canyon walls with orange tinted sandstone and shale punctuated by pools of water from seeping springs. The introduction to Mesa Verde National Park is a truly breathtaking experience!
Access to some cliff dwellings is only by ranger-guided tours. Sturdy walking shoes, water, and head covering are required when navigating the spaces between boulders, walking on paths cut into the sides of the mesas, climbing up and down ladders, and sometimes crawling through short tunnels to get in or out of the dwellings. Some cliff dwellings, like Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House have as many as 100 rooms with well defined living, religious and communal spaces.
They include Colorado National Monument, Black Canyon, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, Moab, and Canyonlands. And yes, Mesa Verde National Park, designated the number one world heritage site to visit, by Conde Nast Traveler.
Other Attractions in the Area:
For visitors to this region of the country a delectable smorgasbord of attractions is there to be sampled properly in as few as four days, more leisurely in ten days, or even permanently as some retirees report. Exploring the park and its environs can be physically strenuous. For those desiring a less active visit, itineraries can be planned starting in Denver that allow for sampling the theater, driving to Pagaso Springs for soaking in the Hot Springs and then on to Durango to experience the Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad or to Telluride via the exquisite San Juan Skyway. Aspen and Ouray are considered by many to be on the list of top ten places to visit in Colorado.
For the more active, the area of Southwest Colorado is rich with possibilities that include visiting wineries, spas, shopping, archaeological expeditions, hiking, camping, stage coach rides, steam locomotive travel, in addition to the proximity of the national parks and monuments as well as learning more about the extensive history of several Native American nations.
Cortez, CO, the city closest to Mesa Verde Park, can only be accessed by air on Great Lakes Airlines from Denver. Bikers, cyclists, and motorists can enjoy the roadways connecting mountains and deserts that wend toward and through the park.
Explorations of archeological and historical sites can be balanced with stage coach rides and wine tasting. Twelve miles from Mesa Verde Park, nestled in Weber Canyon is Mancos Valley. There, Eric and Lizzie Bartels, owners of the Bartels' Mancos Valley Stage Line have recreated a slice of the Wild, Wild West. Eric's talk and the tour of his collection of coaches ensures that connections of purpose, style and construction in stage coaches are well understood. A one hour ride in the countryside at sunset complete with the holdup by the masked bandit ends with a meal of huge steaks (special dietary considerations are met with scrumptious alternatives), and music at the salon. History buffs will love learning about the role stage coaches played in the expansion and settlement of the west.
For Wine Connoisseurs:
A special feature of the Guy Drew Vineyards is wine-tasting in their large, airy kitchen fostering stimulating conversations among visitors, locals who come for personal purchases, and neighbors popping in to say hello.
Planning Meal Stops While on the Road:
Exploring the deserts and mountains means traveling away from cities and towns, restaurants are far and few between so meals have to be preplanned. Picnic baskets filled with lunches and goodies from the Cortez Farmers market, local bakeries, and supermarkets are handy. In town, however, on Main Street in Cortez, and within walking distance of the Best Western Turquoise Inn and Suites and other hotels in town, there are many excellent choices.
Exploring the park and its surroundings is all about garnering memories, broadening knowledge of Native American history, deepening understanding of connections among the various groupings of human beings, and renewing respect and admiration for the wonders of nature.
ANASAZI HERITAGE CENTER
MESA VERDE COUNTRY VISITORS BUREAU
CORTEZ CULTURAL CENTER
GUY DREW VINEYARDS
MANCOS VALLEY STAGE LINE
THE FAR VIEW LODGE
BEST WESTERN TURQUOISE INN AND SUITES
THE DRY DOCK RESTAURANT
© 2009 ROMAR TRAVEL GUIDES