Returning to Color-Red-O I first paused in Cortez for a entirely forgettable meal and stout at J. Fargo’s Brewing. At least filled up, I continued to Mesa Verde National Park and signed up for the only guided tour available this early in the year. With a bit of time to kill I first drove around the Mesa Top Loop and visited a few of the sites, including the Square Tower House viewpoint.
Cliff Palace is the largest and best known of Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings, and can only be visited on one of the guided tours.
Some 40 people were in my tour, not quite the small gathering I’d hoped for, but it was still an interesting introduction to the cliff dwellings, which only were used for a short time.
Our park interpreter reminded us that the Native American’s had been living on the mesa top for hundreds of years prior to the construction of the cliff dwellings. Still, the cliff dwellings have a definite hold on the imagination, especially viewed in light of what a civilization may build when under stress.
After the tour I made a short trip up to the view point on Park Point, then returned to Cortez for a better meal and beer at the Main Street Brewery.
A near-freezing evening was spent at the Mancos State Park before I drove back into the park in a small snow storm. As the sun struggled to break through the clouds, I wandered around the Far View sites.
A couple deer were also enjoying the area, and I later heard mountain lions were known to look for a snack here.
Continuing further into the park I stopped to make a quick hike of the Farming Terrace Trail and spotted a few bright blue birds (as you can see, I’m an excellent birder).
By now the self-guided cliff dwelling of Spruce Tree House was open, so I headed there to find the lone ranger on duty in the warm sunlight. Dragging him away into the morning chill of Spruce Tree House we had a nearly uninterrupted 90 minute conversation about Mesa Verde, the park service, kivas, Wadsworth, the Alps, wildlife reintroduction, and the “invention” of appreciation for wild and sublime landscapes.
Besides enjoying the longest conversation I’d had with another person in days, Spruce Tree House also offered a better understanding of what a public space the closed kiva’s provided, as well as the construction details of the interior.
Mesa Verde is a bit unique by National Park standards and leans heavily towards the preservation side of the dual duties of the park service (preservation and recreation). However, I was determined to stretch my legs on the Petroglyph and Spruce Canyon trails, each around 2 to 2.4 miles.
Besides the large panel of petroglyphs (which I must admit I appreciated more when I realized it was, at least in part, a map, even if possibly only a symbolic one) I also enjoyed a few early wild flowers.