We drove the 3 hours to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado on Thursday evening. The park has been hit with fires pretty bad the last 10 years, so much of the older growth pinon pines, juniper, and fir trees are destroyed even though there's still a lot of green. Natural lightning strikes were the cause. The park is about 7,000-8,000 feet. There are hundreds of ruins across 55,000 acres. Most of the dramatic ruins are in deep canyons under alcoves. I found the park to be too commercialized with paved trails and ranger tours. Hovenweep National Monument and Chaco Canyon, though on smaller scales, are much more remote, quiet, and lack the "Disneyland" feel that I hate. However, it was pretty cool these grand ruins in such a vast setting.
First morning drive out to Wetherill Mesa. I slammed on the brakes and spotted this adult bear. We stopped and watched it for a bit. It was a good sized bear and within view of the visitor's center we had just left.
Early explorers and archaeologists etched numbers and painted symbols on the ruins or adjacent to them to mark them for future study.
Many ruins have these grinding indentations in the floors and on rocks in the structures where tools were ground down and shaped.
Several ruins allow you to walk through them on ranger tours. Only one is open to self-guided exploration. The rest can only be viewed from a distance.
Waiting for the tram on Wetherill Mesa in a small spot of shade. This mesa was burned 12 years ago and is pretty desolate and ugly.
Annie going down into the only "rebuilt" kiva in the park. Most kivas lost their roofs long ago and are only open circular pits.
The clan outside Spruce House ruin.
James climbing with the ranger up the 32 foot ladder at Balcony House - this was our favorite tour with many ladders and steps to climb. Matthew cruised right up the 32 foot ladder just after James. Balcony House sits in an alcove high up the canyon wall with steep cliffs and slopes below it.
One of the tunnels in Balcony House.
Balcony House ruin. Several kivas sit right on the edge of the alcove above the canyon face. A long wooden beam is still sticking out of one wall - they don't know what it was for. The wood in these structures is original from the 1100s and 1200s when they were built. Dry desert air preserves many things.
Climbing another ladder up the cliff face out of Balcony House.
Cliff Palace - the most photographed ruin in the park. This is the largest ruin as well.
Cliff Palace and our tour group. Our ranger on this tour was boring as crap.
Multi-story towers have mostly tumbled down, but this one is still intact with wooden beams showing the different floors.
The only 4-story tower in the park is in House (?) ruin.
This canyon view shows Cliff Palace in the back and to the right, Sun Temple on the mesa straight across and another smaller alcove ruin straight across. Up canyon to the left out of sight and across and to the left were about 7 other ruins. It was pretty cool seeing so many ruins scattered all through these two intersecting canyons.
Fire House ruin was not a dwelling place, but a communal gathering place - based on the lack of "trash piles" and evidence of day-to-day living.
In some ruins, you can see the finger prints or finger strokes of the builders - pretty cool.
Used our new generator to power the camper at times. Very nice.