After a good night’s sleep at the Hampton Inn in Durango and the complimentary breakfast, we headed west from Durango towards Cortez, CO on the US-160. Just 35 miles west of Durango is Mesa Verde National Park, the site of ancient cliff dwellings (back to the Ancestral Puebloans). We would spend half the day at Mesa Verde and head towards Kayenta, Arizona where we planned to spend our next night.
[[image:us195.jpg:Route from Durango, Colorado to Kayenta, Arizona – note the meeting of 4 states in the middle of the map:center:0]]
Mesa Verde, here we come!
I wasn’t sure what to expect but cliff dwellings sounded very interesting. We saw some tepees on the road, inviting us to go into Native American crafts stores along the road:
[[image:us155.jpg:Tepees and giant Arrows:center:0]]
We saw this huge mesa from far away. Turns out, we had to drive off the main road for about 30 miles before we got to the Park, and this mesa in the picture turned out to be our destination:
The road was very windy – worse than the road to Cameron Highlands. Plenty of areas where the road just curved around and doubled back (“switchbacks”) – we were up and down the sides of mountains for a while. Drove through a tunnel through the mountains:
[[image:us189.jpg:Tunnel on the road to Mesa Verde National Park:center:0]]
We got to our first stop, Knife’s Edge Point, about 20 miles into the road:
[[image:us157.jpg:Knife’s Edge Point:center:0]]
[[image:us158a.jpg:Abah under a tree at Knife’s Edge Point:center:0]]
[[image:us159.jpg:View at Knife’s Edge Point:center:0]]
Then we continued another 10 or so miles to the Chapin Mesa Museum where we wandered in, spoke to the Park Rangers who were very helpful, debated buying tickets for Cliff Palace House tours but in the end decided not to since it involved climbing up and down ladders (not stairs but ladders) and we didn’t want to put ourselves through too strenuous a time). We did pick up a bunch of documents including a self-driving tour of Mesa Verde. The Museum was really cool:
[[image:us160.jpg:Chapin Mesa Museum:center:0]]
[[image:us161.jpg:Sparrow Hawk in a display of birds indigenous to the area:center:0]]
[[image:us162.jpg:How they determine the age of the ruins:center:0]]
[[image:us163.jpg:Dioramas of how it used to be:center:0]]
[[image:us164.jpg:Mak and me by a sign outside the museum:center:0]]
After the museum, we walked outside and took the trail right by the museum that leads to Spruce Tree House, a Mesa Verde cliff dwelling. The walk was downhill all the way (oh dear, already know it won’t be too much fun climbing back all the way up).
[[image:us165.jpg:Abah and Mak on the trail:center:0]]
[[image:us166.jpg:More cool rock formations:center:0]]
[[image:us167.jpg:Don’t touch! After gatal baru tahu!:center:0]]
Finally we get to Spruce Tree House. This is a beautiful example of well preserved ruins of the abodes of the Ancestral Puebloans:
[[image:us177.jpg:Spruce Tree House from the trail:center:0]]
[[image:us168.jpg:Spruce Tree House:center:0]]
[[image:us169.jpg:Mak and Cowboy Vin looking at Spruce Tree House:center:0]]
They built on the cliffs, and climbed up to the top of the mesa which was fertile and was where they cultivated crops (maize, pumpkin) and hunted small animals. In places, you can see the remains of hand- and foot-holds along the cliffs (the park ranger said).
Ancestral puebloans build in-ground communal ceremonial structures, which are called “kivas“. That’s what this hole is:
[[image:us170.jpg:Spruce Tree House kiva:center:0]]
Originally kivas had roofs made of wood and mud. The park rangers rebuilt one of them and allowed tourists to climb into the kiva to experience what it must have been like when the kiva was intact.
[[image:us171.jpg:Climbing out of the kiva:center:0]]
Vin climbed down with me, and he was able to stand in the kiva without having to stoop, so it was pretty deep. Very dark. Probably smoky as well, since there was a fire pit in there. Side note: Current native americans who are believed to be descendants of the ancestral puebloans include the people who live at Acoma Sky City and Taos Pueblo. They also have kivas, but tourists are not allowed to learn much about the current religion that they practise.
Anyway, here are more pictures of us at Spruce Tree House:
[[image:us172.jpg:Mak, Vin and me at Spruce Tree House:center:0]]
[[image:us173.jpg:Mak, Abah and Vin at Spruce Tree House:center:0]]
[[image:us174.jpg:Vin and me:center:0]]
After a nice conversation with the park ranger and looking around the dwelling, we went back up the trail (slowly!). Not only is it uphill, but don’t forget, we were already at about a 6000 feet elevation which made it harder on our poor sea-level dwelling lungs. But the view was still beautiful.
[[image:us175.jpg:Like a UFO landed there:center:0]]
[[image:us176.jpg:Mak and Abah:center:0]]
Once we got back to Chapin Mesa Museum, we had to take a sit-down and recover from the hike.
We replenished our water supply (Julio, our tour guide at Taos Pueblo had informed us that due to the high elevation we need to drink a lot of water or we would get dehydrated and pass out. He said tourists passed out at Taos Pueblo at least on a weekly basis – that put the fear of dehydration in us and we all had lots of water to drink on the rest of the trip) and set off. We took the self-drive tour of Chapin Mesa and saw Square Tower House from high up and bit of a distance:
[[image:us179.jpg:The Square Tower is on the right:center:0]]
We were looking down into the canyon:
[[image:us180.jpg:Vin at the canyon edge:center:0]]
[[image:us181.jpg:Mak and Abah at Navajo Canyon Overlook:center:0]]
[[image:us182.jpg:Vin, Mak and me at Cliff Palace Overlook:center:0]]
Here are the Cliff Palace dwellings:
[[image:us183.jpg:Cliff Palace ruins:center:0]]
We had a terrific view from Sun Temple Point:
[[image:us184.jpg:Sun Temple overlook:center:0]]
[[image:us186.jpg:Sun Temple Point:center:0]]
[[image:us188.jpg:Sun Temple Point view:center:0]]
And here’s the Sun Temple itself:
[[image:us185.jpg:Mak and Abah by the walls of the Sun Temple:center:0]]
We saw wild ponies on the mesa:
It was truly one of the highlights of the trip so far. It’s just amazing to think of these ancestral puebloans living here, building multi-storey dwellings that you couldn’t get to unless you climbed up and down cliffs (they must have been nimble, agile, and very in shape!). It was a wonderful visit. I would absolutely love to go back (once I have worked out some more and gotten in better shape) and do the more strenuous tours, climb around Cliff Palace. Also, since it’s off-season and winter is more than approaching (the roads were icy as well as windy on the way to Mesa Verde), they had closed off sections of the area and the second canyon-loop road, so I can imagine how much more we could see another time!
The weather was again, beautiful, with some wispy clouds toward the afternoon:
After driving back through the tortuous 30-mile windy crazy switchbacking road back to Highway 160, we headed west to have a late lunch at Cortez, and then drove on to Kayenta, Arizona. We decided to stop at the Four Corners Monument (the only place in the United States where 4 states come together, the states being Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado). However, they were going to charge us $5 per person to get into the area, and we decided we could spend our money on something other than being able to be in 4 states at once.
Some interesting rock formations that we saw along the way to Kayenta:
[[image:us192.jpg:Sticking up for yourself:center:0]]
[[image:us193.jpg:Face looking up at the sky:center:0]]
[[image:us194.jpg:Looks like something from a sci-fi flick:center:0]]
We arrived safely in Kayenta just in time for Maghrib prayers. Our heads were full of ancestral puebloans and their cliff dwellings and here’s some more photostitching:
[[image:usph15.jpg:Spruce Tree House:center:0]]
[[image:usph16.jpg:Navajo Canyon overlook:center:0]]
[[image:usph17.jpg:Sun Point Overlook-Left:center:0]]
[[image:usph18.jpg:Sun Point Overlook-Right:center:0]]
[[image:usph19.jpg:Cliff Palace from one of the Overlooks:center:0]]
[[image:usph20.jpg:Cliff Palace ruins:center:0]]