Today was a long 450 mile drive from Moab, Utah to Cheyenne, Wyoming. It took over 10 hours. We ran into road construction and a 60 mile bumper to bumper backup on Interstate 70 outside of Denver that cost us several hours. The drive was mostly desolate and boring interstate but it was interesting to drive through the Rocky Mountain Hotspring towns such as Glenwood Springs, and ski resorts such as Beaver Creek, Vail, and Breckenridge an altitudes on the pass up to 11200 feet!
On the way to Cheyenne we realized we’d have trouble finding a RV Park because the selection is minimal. Most that we found has reviews of 1 or 2 stars (on a scale of 10) and sounded like scary nightmares. We finally found one that had decent reviews and was on a bison ranch: Terry Bison Ranch Resort. It looked like it could be interesting for the kids (Bison, other animals, a train ride, horseback riding, fishing pond, restaurant, etc). So we called them up and they said they were booked but had lots of grass parking if we just wanted to dry camp and park for the night. We said we might. But upon arrival they had an opening for a basic water/electricity hookup for the night. So we took it. We also found out they were so booked because it was Cheyenne’s 117th Annual Frontier Days 10 Day Celebration. Since 1897 its one of the oldest (if not the oldest) an the largest outdoor rodeo in the world.
We arrived a bit late to make the rodeo shows. And we couldn’t visit the Indian Village. The kids just wanted to go on rides and we were hungry so we ate at the Fair to the sounds of Dwight Yoakam playing in the nearby stadium. Its very much like our own Puyallup Fair, but with beer and lots more cowboy boots, cowboy hats, and Wrangler jeans. All-in-all it was a good way to end a rather exhaustingly long day of driving.
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.