THE GREAT ROLLING BEAN ROAD TRIP: 10 NATIONAL PARKS IN 18 DAYS
Stop number 2 on our National Park Road Trip in the fall of 2019 was Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde is by far, one of the most unique US National Parks. Located in Southwest Colorado, the cliffs of this giant flat topped mesa were the home of ancestral Pueblo people from the late 1100's to around 1300. The site is home to the largest archeological preserve in the United States. Hundreds of cliff dwellings dot the sides of the Mesa with Balcony House, Cliff Palace, and Long House being the most accessible and commonly visited of the dwellings. While literally living on the face of cliffs, the Pueblo people would climb the walls every day to hunt, gather food and farm, and carry supplies back to their homes. You can read a lot about the history of the Pueblo people who called Mesa Verde home here.
This park was very different for Nicole and I, as we typically love parks focused around nature, hiking, and exploring. While Mesa Verde has a fair number of hiking trails and gorgeous views of the surrounding valleys the main feature of the park is definitely the history and archeology. Most of the hiking trails lead to various archeological sites around the park and to really get up close and personal with the cliff dwellings you need to schedule a guided tour.
We only had the chance to spend one full day at Mesa Verde during our road trip, so we opted to go on a guided tour of Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in the park, and Balcony House. Because of our limited time in the park, we didn't have an opportunity to explore many of the archeological sites on the mesa top, but the cliff dwellings are certainly the highlight of this park. We highly recommend arriving at the park visitor's center early to ensure you have enough time and availability to schedule multiple tours in one day. The cliff tours are a really cool way to learn about the lives of the ancestral people who lived here, but to be honest this park didn't make our list of favorite National Parks from our trip. The park service wants to make these cliff dwellings accessible for as many people to enjoy as possible and because of this, the tours were very crowded and it was impossible to spend time exploring the dwellings on your own. We find one of our favorite things about most national parks is the opportunity to get away from the crowds and enjoy the outdoors. While there is plenty of history and archeological wonder at this site, we found the opportunities to enjoy nature a little lacking compared to most parks.
After visiting the cliffside dwellings, Nicole and I followed some signs for fresh Navajo Fry Bread. We had never tried Native American Fry Bread before so it was a new experience for us. All I have to say is, if you have never tried fresh made fry bread, don't pass up the opportunity to do so! We arrived at a small parking lot with a wooden stand and a Navajo family making fresh dough and frying it to perfection. For $5 you could enjoy a delicious pastry, similar to a funnel cake but much more flavorful, covered in honey, powdered sugar, or salt. The experience led us to getting other fry bread dishes along our road trip including fry bread tacos in the Grand Canyon.
If you plan on taking a trip thru Southern Colorado, we highly recommend stopping at Mesa Verde if it's along your way. You really only need one day to experience the highlights of this park, but if you wanted to spend a second day, you could spend your day hiking some of the trails to various overlooks, archeological sites, or take a guided tour to one of the lesser known cliff dwellings. These longer tours have fewer people, and some wind thru miles of trails and steep slopes which may be more well suited for the more adventurous.
We hope you enjoy the glimpse into our adventure in Mesa Verde. If you look closely in some of the photos you can make out some of the cliff dwellings dotting the cliffs. I can only imagine waking up everyday to the gorgeous view across the valley from a cliffside home. It's truly incredible how these ancient people were able to build these complex and massive homes hundreds of feet above the ground that have lasted hundreds of years.