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  • Writer's pictureDavid and Jennifer Cook

Mesa Verde National Park

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

One of the main reasons we chose Montrose, Colorado as our home for three months was because of its proximity to so many national parks. One of the closest ones is Mesa Verde National Park which is located in southwest Colorado. This park is bets known for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. When we finally made the two hour drive to this park to explore everything it had to offer, we were pleasantly surprised. We knew all about the cliff dwellings, but we were stunned at how much more there was to the park.

I would highly recommend a quick stop at the visitor center before you venture deep into this park. Talking to the park rangers and getting a feel for the layout of the park was helpful for us. For example, we had no idea that it was a 23 to 26 mile drive from the visitor center to the cliff dwellings. We had miles and miles of park terrain to explore and had to adjust our time accordingly. At the visitor center they have this gorgeous piece of art that seems to fit so well into the surrounding area.

As we made our way deeper into the park we quickly started to go up and up in elevation. (The visitor center is really at the lowest elevation point in the entire park.) Luckily, as you drive through the park there are a number of pull offs to stop and enjoy the view!

The picture below is something we have become used to while traveling with Frodo. This dog LOVES the mountains and the views from the top of mountains. This national park was no different. We picked him up so he could see the view and for several minutes he did not move a muscle. His eyes took it all in (the next picture to follow was the view). When I put him down he immediately whimpered, went to the wall and lifted his paws up while looking at me to pick him up. I knew he was not done yet, so i picked him up again and let him look for another few minutes. Frodo is such a treasure to us, and sharing these adventures with him is a delight.

As I said previously, there are many pull offs along the way and this was another one that caught our attention. The dead tree added such a unique contrast to the valley below.

(David used a slightly different setting on his camera to create a more stark feel to the view. He loved how it looked, so I wanted to include it in this post)

As we moved further into the park we came to the first ruins. These are from the Far View Community. The Far View area was once an extensive farming community and one of the most densely populated regions of the Mesa Verde. The trails around the community allow you to walk around the perimeter to see the ruins from all sides. It was fascinating to me to learn that the remains of the buildings on this site are more than 750 years old!

As fascinating as all these pull offs and ruins were to see, we were excited to reach the main reason for our visit: the cliff dwellings! My husband was like a little school boy on the last day of school as we headed to see the first cliff dwelling. His excitement ramped up even more as soon as he spotted them. I chose to hang back with Frodo to take it all in, but David was scrambling over rocks and hiking from one side to the other to find the perfect angle to take another picture. It was almost as fun watching him as it was to see the dwellings.

There are two main cliff dwellings in the park along with many other sites. However the Sherman House area and Cliff Palace area are the iconic locations most people come to see (including us). Both locations have many vista points for you to see the architectural ruins (just ask David). There are also guided tours you can take with park rangers to go into some of the ruins. Be advised these tours require some strenuous hiking due to elevation changes, require climbing ladders and one even had you crawling through a tight tunnel to reach the specific ruins. Also keep in mind you are at an elevation of approximately 8,000 feet. This will take a toll on you if you are used to living in lower elevations.

Cliff Palace is thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America. You can not help but stand in awe of how these were created and maintained. This is such a unique site.

There are many other important sites to look at in the park. The petroglyphs near the Sherman House are impressive. The museum near the Sherman House is an original building for the area and over hundred years old. Those two (along with many other hikes) will keep you entertained for hours. This park is fascinating and a definite must see!

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