We planned to stay two nights in Dolores, Colorado so we could spend a full day touring at Mesa Verde. I had been here once before with my friend Ross when we were 17 and on mid-winter break road-trip to Albuquerque. We had just spent the night at a hostel in Durango and stopped into Mesa Verde on our way to Arches National Park. But it was February and the park was essentially closed. We could drive into the park and we could see Spruce Tree House from above, but we couldn’t access the trail to climb down to it. So I was excited to return and really see the cliff houses up close and take a guided tour.
We arrived at the new visitor center about 10:30 am and were able to purchase tour tickets for Cliff Palace (only $12 for a 1 hour guided tour for 4 people! – I was shocked and had to ask the price again. I put away my credit card and paid with some good ‘ol greenbacks). Our tour would be at 2:30 in the afternoon. It was about an hour drive into the park to get to the starting point for the tour. This gave us plenty of time to take a self guided tour of Spruce Tree House, visit the museum for an educational film to orient the kids, and time for a little grilled hot dogs before heading into the dry hot tour of Mesa Verde.
Spruce Tree House is impressive in and of itself. If you don’t have time to take a guided tour, this is a great way to get a sense of what life was like for the ancestral pueblians some 800+ years ago.
After Spruce Tree House, lunch, and a visit to the gift shop we drove another 1/2 hour to the meeting point for the Cliff Palace tour. This was the site first witnessed in the 1880s by two cow hands looking for stray cattle who stumbled upon the ruin which had been abandoned more than 650 years ago. It was so well preserved and full of pottery, weavings, and tools and was so magically entrancing to the two uneducated cattle hands that even they realized the importance of the find. They took the initiative to write to the Smithsonian and to many archaeologists around the world imploring them to come and investigate and preserve the find. The tour took one hour and at over 7000 feet in elevation was hot and strenuous, but also a fascinating step back in time.