Featured Location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

I highly recommend you check out Mesa Verde National Park, in Colorado.

One thing I’ve noticed in the short 2 ½ years since I started travelling, is that mother nature waits for nobody. Things that exist and are taken for granted, today, may not be around for much longer. Do I know some secret of impending doom that no one else knows about? Well, no… but I have been paying attention to the news, when locations that I wanted to revisit with my family, are no longer there.

I have seen 4 major changes that affected my travelling plans. I’m positive there’s more than this, but these are just the few that have affected me, personally.

  1. The destruction of the Great Smoky Mountains area due to wild fire, in the North Carolina/ Tennessee border.
  2. The famous sequoia tree with a tunnel drilled into it, so that cars can drive through it, was brought down due to weather.
  3. The swimming ban at the natural pools at the Hamilton Pool Preserve, outside of Austin, Texas.
  4. The closing of the cliff dwellings at the Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Obviously, there are more areas that were once beautiful destinations to access nature, that are now changed or not accessible, but these are the ones that were on my “take my family to visit someday” list.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
The cliff dwellings known as the Cliff Palace, can be reached through tour, from the Mesa Verde National Park rangers, in Colorado.

One of my first National Parks to ever visit was the Mesa Verde National Park outside of Cortez, Colorado. Being from the city, I didn’t understand why people visited national parks, especially ones that didn’t have things to do, inside of them. I don’t know how, but I had heard that there were places where prehistoric cliff dwellings were still erect. I happened to fly into Montrose, Colorado, by way of Denver, and then drive an extremely scenic drive to the small town of Nucla, where I would spend the week, working in the area. I happened to look for tourist attractions in the area, as I was not into hiking yet, only taking selfies with landmarks, at this point. (My Instagram account will show you a good amount of selfies in the beginning, before posting up scenic photographs.) The cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park came up. Wasn’t too far away, but with the mountain terrain, it was about a 3 hour drive to get to them.

Chimney Rock, Ute Indian Mountain Reservation, Cortez, Colorado
The structure known as Chimney Rock, at the entrance of the Ute Indian Reservation, outside of Cortez, Colorado.

I reached the city of Cortez first, and then drove to the entrance of the park. There is a visitor/ information center at the entrance, to get maps, book tours, or use their facilities. Stopping here is recommended, to kind of get an idea of the plan of exploration for the day.  This location can easily take several days to explore everything in it, as you will discover that this park is littered with cliff dwelling remains throughout the canyons. Once you leave the visitor center and pay your entry (entry fee varies on car size and people in vehicle,) there’s around a 30 minute drive from entrance to where the cliff dwellings are at. You are going to drive into the mountains of the region. The time given may vary, but if you’re scared of heights and can’t believe there aren’t barriers at some of the cutbacks on this road, it may take you the 30 minutes to drive to the main area.

Cortez, Colorado Holiday Inn Express Hotel
My kid playing in the snow of the hotel in the town of Cortez, Colorado, with the Rocky Mountains in the back.
Mesa Verde National Park drive overlook Cortez, Colorado
The town of Cortez Colorado from an overlook while driving from the entrance of Mesa Verde National Park, to the main cliff dwelling canyons area.

There are parking stops all over the park, at almost every historic site and picture worthy overlook. My first time, I got to see the specific dwellings called the Cliff Palace and the Spruce Treehouse. One is open by paid tour, the other on was public and though not fully accessible, at least you were able to climb down a ladder to an underground, ceremonial  round room in the center of the dwellings.

Spruce Treehouse Selfie, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
I took a picture at the Spruce Treehouse back when it was still open to the public. You can see tourists behind me, in the dwellings. This location is now closed to the public, due to potential overhead structure failure.

The trails and the cliff dwellings take you back to another era, as you are cut off from civilization by mountains and canyons, sprinkled with historic structures. These dwellings are impressive and the silence of the place will make you wonder how people actually lived here, back in ancient days. Prehistoric condominiums, of a sort, as some were able to hold dozens of families within it’s area. We ran into a small herd of deer while hiking above the Cliff Palace area, so be mindful that this is still a place for wild animals to wander about. I don’t really know much about deer, other than that infamous video of “when animals attack” of a deer beating up a hunter, so seeing how they had babies, we turned back, as to not get my ass beat by no “mommy deer” trying to protect its young.

Soda Canyon Trail hike, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Hiking the trails to the Soda Canyons overlook, where many cliff dwellings are visible through posted binoculars.

My 2nd time around this place, the publically open cliff dwelling is no longer safe to be around. I was expecting to have my kids climb down into the underground room I first explored, but was met by a park ranger, telling us the area was now closed, due to a structural concern. Weathering has effected the rock formation above, and if it is not supported, somehow, it was expected to fall and damage the standing ruins. It was just too dangerous to get close to, so they cut off access to it. Now, you can only take pictures from afar, when before, you were arm’s length away from it all. Whether it will ever be open to the public, will be determined by what is done to prevent the site from collapsing on itself. Though they are other safely accessible dwellings left in the park, this is one of the major (and free) ones, taken out of commission, for the time being.

Soda Canyons in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
The main area of Mesa Verde National Park has cliff dwellings littering the many canyon strips in the area, like this one taken from the Soda Canyons overlook trail.

This is a repeating trend to most locations and destinations. We have to remember that time will wait for nobody. One minute, things and people are here, and the next, they’re gone. So stop putting off the visits to your preferred locations! Things are to be appreciated, for what they are, in the moment you are able to look at them. I’ve gone to so many locations, with major attractions missing or gone, because “we had a bad storm that swept things away, about a month or so ago.” Sadly, there are even structures that are being destroyed by explorers, themselves.

Spruce Treehouse closed, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
This is as close as you can get to the Spruce Treehouse now. I returned a year later with my kids, and I could not show them what I wanted to show them. The overhead formation is cracking and might fall if not supported somehow.

My point is this: If there are locations you want to visit, or have been wanting to see, do what you have to do, to go as quickly as possible. Even if it’s just to visit the location for a couple hours. It does not have to be a week long trip. Many of my photographic shots are taken within a couple hours of being in a location, and then leaving. Just like you can go to the theater and experience a film for a couple hours before heading back to “reality,” the same can be done at any state or national park. So even planning a 1 day road trip, is recommended, as long as you get to explore and see what you were looking for.

Canyons at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
The Soda Canyons overlook trail gives you access to a very scenic point, and it’s a very short 0.75 mile hike to get here from the parking spots.
Hiking trails at Mesa Verde National Park, Colrado
Hiking above the area of the Spruce Treehouse. There are many trails around the park to infuse you with the exploring spirit!
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