Approaching Mesa Verde National Monument, I noticed a very steep road cut into the face of a high mountain. This is the road into the park. Road Repair season ensured that new pavement covered the 23 miles to Cliff Palace. About fifteen miles was “almost” smooth with fresh tar and gravel.
Not this biker’s favorite!
Despite the construction, the ride from the park entrance to the Visitor Center is scenic with sufficient turn-outs for the tourist to enjoy and photograph the panoramic vistas.
There was a long queue for tour tickets. A volunteer talked about Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House cliff dwellings. His photo album presented shots of multiple ladders, of crossing an open rock face, and crawling through a tunnel. This got my attention. For starters, I’m afraid of heights, especially ledges, and the knee replacement dislikes weight on it. We asked him for details. He showed close-ups of the rock face. There is a safety wire to hold on to.
Okay, I can do that.
Then he showed photographs of a 32 foot ladder one must climb to enter the dwelling.
Okay, there are people older than me doing the climb.
Next he pointed out a 12 feet long tunnel carved through stone.
Maybe I can drag my right leg.
The tunnel is narrower than my shoulders, and parts of my body tend to be large. If I didn’t have to worry about my knee, I think I could squeeze through. The volunteer suggests; “You might want to try Cliff Palace.”
I check Cliff Palace, no rock face, no tunnel, and the longest ladder was only 10 feet long.
This is for me.
I bought a ticket for Cliff Palace. I didn’t notice 5 ladders and a 100 foot vertical climb to exit the cliff dwelling.
Oh well, live and learn.
Spending four hours in the park, I only saw Cliff Palace. If I can get back here, I will stay in the lodge and spend two or three days exploring.
The oval pit above is a Kiva. All 23 Kivas of Cliff Palace were perfectly round until just a few years ago. Several have changed dramatically. Without going into detail, it has to do with water and foundations deteriorating. Recently the park lost 80% of its trees to fire. Without the trees to use and hold the water, it seeps into the ground and undermines the dwellings.
When I climbed out, it took me ten minutes to get my breath back.
This gives one an idea of the magnitude of the fire damage.
When I started out of the park, it began to drizzle. Ten miles from the park exit, I decided to follow some sage advice that JAK had imparted when considering the prospect of rain several years ago. “If in doubt, suit up.” I pulled to the side of the road and dug out my foul weather gear. George Bob (GB) had paid me another visit. My boots were nowhere to be found, leaving me outfitted for a blizzard but wearing sneakers. Thanks GB!
I continued down the mountain. After no more than a quarter mile, there was a clap of thunder followed by a cloud burst. Five miles down the road, right at the apex of a curve posted “15 MPH” was a mud slide.
Oh what a joy.
The minute I exited the park the rain stopped. Within 20 minutes it was 100 degrees. The good thing was that my sneakers dried out. It was 50 miles before I stopped at a Ute Indian casino for gas. I changed out of my foul weather gear, now a sweat box. I chugged some water and put the rain gear away.
As miserable and as dangerous the ride from Mesa Verde to the highway was the sheer grandeur of the cave dwellings made it worthwhile. An added benefit was checking off one more item on my Bucket List.