We departed Moab mid morning with plans to visit Mesa Verde NP, about two hours away, before ending up near Durango, CO. Our initial plan was to camp in Mesa Verde, but we needed to get into Durango to pick up some prescriptions and did not want to backtrack the 40 odd miles into the park after doing so.
The cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde are located some 20+ miles inside the park on a road that climbs up and winds back and forth along canyons and ridge lines before running down Chapin Mesa to the area where most of the cliff dwellings are located. Like most (all) of the National Parks we’ve visited, there is a lodge here, this one located at 8,000 feet in the far view area. It looked like a very cool spot to stay.
Our objective was the Mesa Top loop. We had a guided audio tour that led us to the 10 or 11 spots on this loop that showed the archaeological artefacts of the different dwellings used by the Pueblo people between about CE 600s to 1200s, evolving from pit houses dug into the top of the mesa to masonry structures, finally moving from the mesa top down into the cliff dwellings around the 1200s. There is apparently some mystery around why the people left the cliff dwellings by around 1300. The audio tour indicated that it was probably just a migration further south to other pueblo communities. Looking at the site, it is pretty obvious to me that one might desire a location that did not entail either a several hundred foot scramble up from the valley or a 100 ft or so rock face climb down from the top of the mesa to get to your front door.
One thing we noticed driving in and out along the park road was extensive evidence of wildfires. In fact, there were signs along the road indicating the names and dates of major wildfires. The highest point in the park has a fire lookout station. Some pictures from there and from the road are shown in the gallery below. We learned that 70 percent of the park has burned in wildfires since being established in 1906, with 5 large fires in the last 14 years, accounting for 50 percent of the park land.
We weren’t able to add to our National Park t-shirt collection at Mesa Verde – by the time we reached the visitor center and gift shop it was closed, and we didn’t like the options at the campground store. Miranda did get her park stickers and postcards, so all was not lost.
After a brief stop in Durango for provisioning and fuel, we headed out to the campground outside of town for the night. Gas is cheap in Colorado at about $2.09, compared to $2.29-$2.49 in Utah. Unfortunately, our RV’s gas mileage has suffered in the slog over and through the mountains in the last couple of days, hovering in the range of 8-9 MPG.
Next we are continuing South to Sante Fe on the way to our final National Park, Carlsbad caverns. Finally, as may be obvious from the photos, weather has been beautiful, with sunny, blue skies and warm, but not terribly hot temperatures. And no smoke!