Traveling the country in a Winnebago Brave motorhome always has its share of surprises. Among these, is Mesa Verde National Park. I was on my way driving from Moab, UT to Durango, CO when I saw the signs for the park. I am sad to say I had never heard of Mesa Verde previous to this, and I was intrigued at what I could possibly find there.  I decided to stop in and check it out, as I have yet to be let down by doing this thus far while traveling. 

I parked at the visitor center and went inside to ask about general hiking information. I soon learned that Mesa Verde is an archeological site and mostly preserved for tours, rather than self guided hiking. I was informed of Petroglyph Trail, one of the only self hiking areas, which was a 2.5 mile loop and the ranger said most take about 2 hours to do it. I was also told of guided tours given around the park; I looked around the center at pictures of cave dwellings and decided that for $4, it was a steal to get to tour and explore them with a guide. 

I booked the afternoon Cliff Palace tour and decided to drive over to Petroglyph Trail to do that first. I ran the trail, and had such a fun time! The terrain reminded me of being home in Alaska at parts; there were narrow and steep trails and some areas of climbing rock. I got to Petroglyph Point, the main attraction of this hike, about 30 minutes into my run and enjoyed reading and interpreting the petroglyphs. After leaving Petroglyph Point and continuing the loop, there was a wide cliff clearing where I had to stop and do some yoga. I loved taking everything in from up above, and watching the birds as they told their stories to one another. 

All in all, Petroglyph Trail took me just under an hour including my 20ish minutes of yoga. I recommend this hike to all!! You can pack a lunch with your friends or family and stop at the clearing where I did yoga, it would be beautiful! After Petroglyph Trail, I drove over to Cliff Palace and made some lunch myself while I waited about 45 minutes and then walked over to the tour meet spot. 

As I walked up to the tour spot, I immediately saw the cave dwelling that we would be walking down to, and I stopped in my tracks. I saw a few others do the same, and we began talking about what it would've been like to live down there in those structures. It was just so beautifully made and the location blew my mind! The people I met (just like everyone else I have been fortunate enough to encounter) were very welcoming and informative about what to do during my time in Durango, since they were from there. 

We ascended down very steep rocks when starting our journey to Cliff Palace. As our group came around the corner, we were met by the most wonderful sight of Cliff Palace. We sat there and listened to our guide, Ranger Michael, tell us of the Ancestral Puebloans and their life at Mesa Verde. The people depended mostly on corn, beans, and squash for their livelihood; the valley was perfect for growing these things. Historians think that the Ancestral Puebloans came to Mesa Verde around 500 AD and were living in structures they made called Pithouses. These homes were smaller and not as supported, or protected from anything at all--most importantly the sun. Because of these things, the Puebloans relocated to the Mesa tops in 750 AD. The Mesa tops had some trees for protection, but were located in a very open area and not ideal for growing crops. It's believed that as they realized these things and evolved, the Puebloans again relocated to the cliffs and began building their dwellings somewhere between 1100 and 1250 AD. Cliff Palace was the cave dwelling I toured and it was able to house about 125 people. There were about 100 rooms, and the circular areas, called Kivas, were used for the Puebloans' religious ceremonies. Inside each Kiva has what looks like a circular indentation just pressed into the ground. The indented circle is the Puebloans version of the Christian cross. I couldn't believe that something so special to them looked to be just a part of the terrain to me; I found it really beautiful that they didn't draw attention to their precious symbol, as they knew in their heart what it meant to them. I was overwhelmed standing near the Kiva and couldn't help but wish that I could've met some Puebloans to be able to learn more from them. 

In 500 AD the Puebloans had approximately 1,100 people in their population, and by 1200 AD they had over 5,000 people in their population. On the one hand, the Puebloans were growing in numbers; on the other hand, they had a 50% infant mortality and 80% of their people died before age 5. Many women died in childbirth because of the lack of medicine we have now. Most of the Puebloans lived to be 35 at the oldest, which is something that Ranger Michael explained as being one of the many mysteries of the Puebloans, as no one can really explain why they died so young. 

In Mesa Verde, there are over 600 cliff dwellings similar to Cliff Palace, and 4,500 archeological sites that are kept preserved. Mesas Verde was the first national park to be started based on preserving a culture rather than the land or the animals that lived there. People came together before Mesa Verde became a national park and fought that the sites be protected and regulated on who is able to touch them, thus breaking them down and causing too much ware. I thought it was so cool that this place exists, with so much history, and was glad that people stoop up to protect it. We must fight to keep these things for all to share. 

I could feel the history as I was at Cliff Palace and learned more about what each of the buildings and areas were used for. I loved everything about Mesa Verde National Park and I am grateful for its preservation! We climbed three 10-foot ladders to come back out of the cliffs. The ancient Puebloans did not have ladders, of course. They were the original rock climbers, as there is evidence of where the people carved hand holes to climb up and down into the cliff dwellings. Thank you Puebloans for being the original badasses! I had an incredible day at Mesa Verde National Park learning about the Ancestral Puebloans and the many cliff dwellings! 

Thank you for reading. Feel free to leave your thoughts or follow along for more of my brave adventure at TerezOnWheels.wordpress.com! 

Published by Terez Neel