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Mesa Verde National Park

Saturday & Sunday, October 18-19, 2014

While Diane usually likes me to plan our weekend adventures, I made her decide where we would be going this weekend since Monday was her birthday. She ended up choosing Mesa Verde National Park because it’s a place she has wanted to visit since she moved here. Her choice worked out well for me because it’s also a place I really haven’t spent much time at before but have wanted to. I have typically avoided Mesa Verde in the past because of the large crowds this popular National Park attracts in the summer, but thought that this might be a good time of the year to try and finally go there. It also worked out perfectly that Saturday was the last day of the season for the guided Balcony House tour, so we would be able to visit that ruin on the last day of the season and not miss out.

We left after work on Friday and drove through the San Juan Mountains to Durango where we would be staying for the weekend. It was a little bit of a drive to the park from here, but Diane had a friend who let us stay at their house in Durango.

On Saturday morning we woke up early and drove to the park so that we arrived at the Visitor’s Center just after they opened. We secured a guided tour of Balcony House at 11:00am and then drove through the park to reach the parking area for our tour. While I am not a big fan of large groups and tours, it’s unfortunately the only way to visit most sites in Mesa Verde. They do not allow backcountry hiking and only have a few short hiking trails that you can go on without a guide. After an introduction from the Park Ranger we were soon on our way to visit Balcony House. It was a short hike, but it required climbing up a 32 foot ladder to reach the alcove containing the ruins.

I took a few photos of the ruins inside the Balcony House alcove on our tour.

Balcony House Rooms by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Balcony House Interior by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Balcony House Kiva by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

To leave the alcove we had to crawl through a small tunnel on our hands and knees. It wa a pretty tight fit. Here is Diane exiting the small tunnel.

Exit by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After our tour of Balcony House we drove back to the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and had a little lunch at Spruce Tree Terrace. Then we hiked the Petroglyph Point Trail near the museum to visit the largest petroglyph panel in the park. It was nice to get away from the crowds and hike by ourselves on this trail.

We passed these room blocks along the trail to the petroglyphs.

Foundation by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The impressive petroglyph panel at Petroglyph Point.

Petroglyph Point Panel by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Celebration by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

When we returned to the trailhead on the Petroglyph Point loop trail, we stopped at Spruce Tree House since we were passing right near it. This is a site that you are allowed to visit without being on a guided tour since it is right below the museum.

Fall Doorway by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Spruce Tree Wall by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Inside Spruce Tree House by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After leaving Spruce Tree House we drove around the Mesa Top Loop and Cliff Palace Loop roads so we could stop and visit the scattered mesa-top ruins along the way until sunset. I had wanted to photograph Square Tower House at sunset, but when we visited the overlook for this particular ruin we found that there was the scaffolding in the structure, so I changed those plans. Instead we ended up at the Cliff Palace overlook for sunset.

Square Tower House is a nice looking site that I would love to photograph at sunset some time. I sure hope the park plans on removing the scaffolding at some point…

Square Tower House by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Fall colors below an alcove containing ruins.

Ruins & Colors by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Storm clouds hiding the La Plata Mountains in the distance.

La Plata Storm by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

It had been overcast all day, so I really wasn’t expecting much from sunset at Cliff Palace, but I hoped for a hole in the clouds or a gap on the horizon so the ruins would be bathed in warm late afternoon light. Unfortunately, I was right and the clouds did not let the sun through at sunset. However, there was a brief hole in the clouds while we were waiting at the overlook that did illuminate Cliff Palace with direct light for a few moments.

The square tower at Cliff Palace.

Tower Sunlight by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Direct sunlight on the ruins below.

Village Sunset by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

I made a quick panoramic image of Cliff Palace while it was in the light.

Cliff Palace Panorama by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

As we were leaving the park to drive back to Durango for the night the sun did peek through a gap in the clouds below the horizon and the sky burst full of color. I pulled over at the first place I could and took this shot back towards Sleeping Ute Mountain below the colorful sky.

Mesa Verde Fire by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

On Sunday morning we arrived at the park in time to watch the sun come up near Far View Terrace. The overcast sky from the previous day had turned into a partly-cloudy sky this morning. We drove around the Cliff Palace Loop right after the gate had been opened and stopped to hike to the Soda Canyon Overlook for a different view of Balcony House.

The morning sunlight shines across the top of Mesa Verde near Far View.

Far View Sunrise by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

View from the Soda Canyon overlook. The Balcony House ruins are located in the large alcove below the rim of the cliff in the distance.

Soda Canyon by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Zoomed in on Balcony House.

Balcony House by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After our morning hike we returned to the museum just after they opened so we could secure tickets to the Cliff Palace guided tour at 10:00am that morning.

Before leaving the museum I stopped for a photo of Spruce Tree House surrounded by fall colors before anyone else showed up.

Spruce Tree House by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A view down Cliff Canyon from the Cliff Palace overlook while we waited for our tour to begin.

Cliff Canyon by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

There were a few fall colors in front of Cliff Palace, too.

Fall at Cliff Palace by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Of course, I took plenty of photos of Cliff Palace while we were on our guided tour.

Cliff Palace Tour View by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Cliff Palace Village by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Cliff Palace Tower by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A pictograph and painted wall inside the large square tower pictured above.

Tower Paintings by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After our tour of Cliff Palace it was time to start our drive back home. I made a few stops on the way out of the park to photograph the fall colors on the mesa.

Mesa Verde is not very ‘verde’ this time of the year.

Mesa Verde Colors by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A view over The Knife Edge towards the San Juan Mountains from Park Point, the highest point in the park.

Park Point View by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Fall colors lined the walkway that lead to the Park Point overlook.

Color-Lined Path by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

I’m glad that Diane wanted to go to Mesa Verde this weekend since it turned out to be a good time of the year to visit while avoiding the bigger crowds of summer.

>> Mesa Verde National Park Photo Gallery

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