On Day 2 of our Spring Break vacation, after driving through a blizzard, we headed south. We had hoped to travel from Ridgway State Park south over the “Million Dollar Highway” to Durango. My husband, Jerry, had been researching (freaking out about) the scenic drive for weeks if not months leading up to our trip. I so wanted to travel that stretch. I’ve heard how exposed it is and as a result, what a scenic road it is. Jerry had a little anxiety trouble when we traveled Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park a year ago so he was a little concerned about how it would go.
Lucky for him, the weather didn’t cooperate. The sign at the start of the route flashed “Caution Ahead” and advised no unnecessary travel. Well, damn, I thought. But it wasn’t worth risking our lives, and what the heck, Jerry’s birthday was the next day and he had deserved an alternative route.
With that, we took an alternative route that took us near Telluride and over the 10,222-foot-high Lizard Head Pass, which is beautiful drive in its own right.
Here’s a glimpse into the great views along that scenic stretch of road:
Soonafter, we arrived to warmer temps in Mesa Verde National Park, in southwestern Colorado.
About 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. It’s an amazing place.
Mesa Verde, which means green table in Spanish, became a national park in 1906 to preserve the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Puebloans, both atop the mesas and in the cliff dwellings below.
The sites in Mesa Verde are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.
Once in the national park, we drove 15 miles to the Far View Visitor Center where we purchased tickets for the Ranger-led tour of Cliff Palace. ($3 each, and the only close-up view of Cliff Palace requires the Ranger’s presence)
Cliff Palace is Mesa Verde’s largest cliff dwelling. It has 150 rooms, plus an additional 75 open areas. Twenty-one of the rooms are kivas, and 25 to 30 rooms have residential features. The number of Ancestral Puebloans living in Cliff Palace at any one time was 100 to 120.
Our sons, ages 9, 7 and 2, loved the tour. When we asked what their favorite part of Cliff Palace was it was learning about the human remains that were found there, and also getting in and out of the cliff dwelling.
To get there you descend sharply in tight and narrow passages between rocks. To leave you climb several ladders. It was a great adventure and a cultural experience.
Here’s a short video clip to give you a taste of the tour:
(Mesa Verde includes over 4,500 archeological sites, 600 of which are cliff dwellings.)