Mesa Verde was breathtaking. Jordan and I both went with our families as kids, but I don’t remember much (if any) of it. Jordan remembers taking the same guided tour that we did (although none of the information about it, ha!) and that they visited when park of the park was burning so they weren’t able to see everything.
The architecture is still standing (for the most part) after 700 years and was constructed by hand with sandstone, adobe mortar, and wooden support beams. I’m not sure about you, but I know none of our sticks and bricks houses were constructed well enough to stand that kind of time and our rolling homes definitely wouldn’t have. Not to mention that they are built in the alcoves of cliffs! I’m not afraid of heights, but I’m not going to be scaling cliff faces to get in. I was blown away with how incredible it was. I’m going to say incredible a few times in this post because… well, IT WAS INCREDIBLE!
Cliff Palace We took a guided tour of Cliff Palace. It’s the largest cliff dwelling in North America. It’s comprised of more than 150 rooms. The hike was easy enough that I wore Graham and the two bigger boys hiked and climbed by themselves. We did take the toddler Tula so I could wear Fletcher if need be, but he did great on his own. They were just shy of 3 and 4.5 years old to give you an age reference if you have young children. There are 4 – 10 foot ladders, one going in and three coming out, and you have to climb yourself or be in a baby carrier. The boys had no issues navigating anything, but we did hold onto them tightly through much of the trek. The stairs in and out are rock and uneven and the walkways have no or very minimal railing. There are also a few places that you have to squeeze through the rock cliffs.
The trails in and out were built in the 1930’s by the CCC just to give you a reference of the safety guidelines that considered during the build. While it’s not as impressive as the design and construction of the cliff dwellings, the trails are pretty impressive too!
We HIGHLY suggest the excursion. It’s eerie and moving to stand in the very spot where Ancestral Puebloans created such an architectural feat with only their bare hands and harder stones as tools. While we were there we learned that they “painted” the walls with “plaster.” I’m amazed by this. I don’t know why it never occurred to me before, but seeing the different colors on the structure walls and the paintings brought it to life, for me. I love that we homeschool because Jordan and I have just as much fun learning as the boys do!
You can also visit Balcony House and Long House. We opted for Cliff Palace because it was a short trek. It’s ¼ mile loop and only an hour tour. You have to buy tickets for any of the ranger guided tours (those that you get to get up close and personal) in advance and can only buy them up to two days prior at the visitors center. The tours were $5 per person, excluding the baby, at the when we were there. That doesn’t include your park entry fee, but we have almost paid for our National Parks Pass in the 6 weeks that we’ve had it and we plan to visit at least two more in the next 6 weeks so it was well work it to us.
Long House didn’t have any tours available to us when we were visiting, but it was our second pick. The trip was a little longer. About 2.25 miles and approximately 2.5 hours round-trip. There are 2 – 15 foot ladders to climb at this site. The real determination for us was that Cliff Palace was a much shorter hike for the boys. Jordan also has server back pain randomly and his back wasn’t feeling the best. Not that twisting and turning and climbing crazy stairs was probably the best, but it was a much shorter venture of constant tweaking for him.
Balcony House is on our list for when the boys are old. It requires you to climb up a 32 foot ladder. It’s a short hike and only takes about an hour as well. I’m sure the boys wouldn’t mind the ladder, but it’s a little too nerve wracking for momma with them as young as they are. There is also a tunnel that’s approximately 18” wide that you have to crawl through to enter. It’s a definitely a must see for us on a future trip.
We found out after our trip, go figure, that Long House and Balcony House allow you to get a little more up close and personal. We knew about the tunnel you got to crawl through at Balcony House, but we didn’t realize the whole tour would be more interactive.
At Cliff Palace you do get to peek in a small window and view the painted walls and artwork. It’s not quite like standing in a room or Keva, but it’s still neat!
We didn’t do any extra hiking. However, there are a number of trails you can explore throughout the park. Our tour of Cliff Palace wasn’t until 1:30 and the tour was an hour so that put us well into the afternoon with a toddler who needed a nap after all the activity. We did take a picnic lunch and eat within the park. There are tables at almost all the pull offs. You can check out the picture of the map that I included for a little better reference and there are even quite a few restaurant options depending on the time of year you visit.
Hiking Trails are in abundance within the park. Here’s the link to the hiking trails. Far View Sites and Step House are NOT listed on this hikes page from the National Parks, but they are fantastic sites you can take a quick trip through. If we had spent more time in the area we would have likely spent another day or even two in the park hiking or exploring another area of dwellings. As the boys get older and we revisit this park we’ll definitely explore more of what there is to offer.
Things to Note
- Take a morning tour if you can and go early or late in the season
- Pick a weekday, if it’s an option
- Make sure you have…
* sturdy shoes/boots
* water (there is water at some locations, but not all)
- You can stamp your passport books at the museum or the visitors center, but the visitors center is the only place with stickers if you buy those.
- If you have Junior Rangers stop at the museum to complete their badges and get sworn in. The line at the visitors center is insane, but we didn’t wait at all up at the museum.
Our Suggested Gear for this trip…
- National Parks Pass
- Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottles
- Sunscreen (Non-Nano Zinc Oxide)
- Keen Kids’ Water Shoe/Sandal
* (Budget Option) OshKosh Kids’ Athletic Sandal
I’ll be posting in the next few days about where we stayed. It was a great RV park with shady sites and fantastic amenities. Did I mention it was reasonably priced for the summer time in Colorado?
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