Mesa Verde National Park

I’m on pace to visit all four of Colorado’s National Parks this summer. First and foremost, I’ve been able to visit Rocky Mountain National Park: by myself, with various configurations of my friends, and with various configurations of my family — making it an especially rich, multi-layered space for me. I also got to spend one day visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park by myself, a couple of weeks ago, and I liked it — though I’m not sure I’ll be in any great hurry to go back. And earlier today, Marci and Cor were able to join me in exploring a third national park within the state of Colorado: Mesa Verde National Park.

The area around Mesa Verde is different from what I expected. It’s not quite as arid as I expected, judging from my experiences in Utah or Arizona. And it’s also not quite as mountainous as I expected, judging from my experiences in other parts of Colorado. Still, Southwest Colorado definitely has elements of the high desert and the Rocky Mountains, with mesas and mountains, cacti and canyons. It’s an interesting in-between space that defies easy categorization. And honestly, I like it (at least what I’ve seen of it so far).

We drove to Mesa Verde in the cool of the morning, hoping to do a little hiking before the hottest part of the day. We picked a three-mile loop to a place called Petroglyph Point, where one can still see art that was created by the native peoples who lived in this area until about 700 years ago. The route that we chose allowed us to stay in shade for the parts that were most physically-demanding and walk in dappled sunlight for the parts that were not so hard to hike — so that worked out perfectly.

Even with our best planning, however, we were still plenty hot and tired when we got to Petroglyph Point! Our fatigue was convenient, though, in that it gave us an excuse to sit down and look at the art on the stone walls of the canyon.

One of the things that’s most distinctive about Mesa Verde National Park is that it features anthropological sites just as much as (if not more than) natural sites. And while the geological feature of Mesa Verde is way bigger than I had imagined it to be, the remnants of the Anasazi people who lived on this chunk of rock were also way more intricate and numerous than I had imagined them to be.

The cliff dwellings (including houses and plazas and places of worship) were also amazing to see. And I’m really glad that we got to experience it all for ourselves. But we got to see just about everything that we wanted to see — even hiking a pretty substantial portion of the trails that the park has available — in one morning at the park. Mesa Verde National Park is worth a visit, but I think it would be pretty hard to make a week of it — whereas many of the other national parks I’ve visited feel like they would take a lot longer to exhaust all the points of interest that I’d wish to see. It’s probably on the level with Great Sand Dunes and Capitol Reef. A step below Canyonlands and Wind Cave, at least from what I’ve experienced this summer. Still, I count it a great privilege to have been able to see Mesa Verde with Marci and Cor. And we’re all looking forward to seeing what comes next, with our upcoming visit to the fourth of Colorado’s national parks: Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

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