Sunday, May 25, 2014

A day trip to Mesa Verde and final days in Durango

May 19-21, 2014
Alpen Rose RV Park
Durango, Colorado

This post should be called Durango Part II, although instead of covering six days this time, I am only writing about how we spent our last three last days here.

Monday was a bit of slow day for us as I had an appointment for a haircut at noon and Vic took the Jeep into town for an oil change in the morning. (Full-time RV life really does include the mundane as well as the exciting.) After my much-needed haircut, I wanted to shop at the locally-owned organic grocery in town, Nature’s Oasis, for some vegies and their bakery goods from Serious Delights which we had tasted at the James Ranch. The most exciting part of the day for us happened later that night on TV. We are big Dancing with the Stars fans and this Monday night was the finales. If you are curious, we were both hoping Meryl and Max would win because we felt she was the best technical dancer, and, after thirteen seasons, we think Maks finally deserved to win the mirror ball . Having said that, we were also big supporters of Amy who did an incredible job dancing with prosthetic lower legs.

I can’t begin to write about the next day, Tuesday, May 20, without acknowledging this date is the third anniversary of my mom’s death. I felt her spirit hovering close. It was most evident in the surprise sighting of one her favorite flowers: Forget Me Nots, a flower with a rather appropriate name for the occasion.

Tuesday was the day we reserved to visit Mesa Verde National Park. Since it is an hour away to the entrance, then almost another hour to the popular trailheads, we had to carefully plan our day in terms of being away from the dogs. (Alpen Rose RV Park has dog walkers for hire, but we did not think ahead enough to arrange this option.) Another challenge was Vic getting a severe bloody nose in the morning which put a bit of a caution sign in terms of our hiking plans but we decided to go for it anyway.

The drive to Mesa Verde on Hwy 160 is quite pretty.

From the reading we had done ahead of time, it was pretty clear when we were seeing the Green Table (Mesa Verde in English). The cliff dwellings are located on the back side of this large plateau. The ancestral Pueblo People cultivated crops on top of the mesa.Vic learned that “table” is a bit of a misnomer because the mesa is rather slanted which was a bonus in terms of farming on this part of the land as this tilt gave them  twenty-two days more of sunshine. The more accurate term for this geologic feature in Spanish is a “cuesta.”

The brand new Visitor’s Center at the entrance to the park has some of the most lifelike recreations of the we have ever seen, much like those you would find in a wax museum. These dioramas of the Pueblo People sure helped us better appreciate and envision what we were seeing when we visited the cliff dwellings.

Our plan for the day was to spend all of our time in the Chapin Mesa section of the park where we would visit the museum, hike the Petroglyph Point and Spruce Canyon trails and see the sites along the six-mile Mesa Top Loop Road.

mesa verde map

All seemed doable until we headed out with no one else around on the Petroglyph Point Trail. Being the rookies we are for this type of hiking, we were a little surprised to see features of the trail that we considered on the challenging side. (The hike is described in the park literature as moderate.) Fortunately, I had read enough blogs (see: Oh, the Places They Go, Good Times Rollin,’ and Metamorphosis Road) to know that we were supposed to walk through this slot.

The next challenge on the Petroglyph Point Trail came in the form of very narrow steps leading down the trail. Vic did not like the steepness that faced us but I also know he just wasn't feeling good that day. We were both okay with turning around--a new freedom for me since I tend to feel compelled to push myself even when it is not wise. 

Regardless, we thoroughly enjoyed being out on the trail, discussing all kinds of philosophical aspects of our lives. (I am an NPR addict who doesn’t sleep well through the night, so I often listen to podcasts and Tune In radio stations such as New Dimensions, On Being, Living on Earth, and my new favorite, New World Kirtan.) The night previous to this outing I listened to an engaging interview of Catherine Ann Jones on New Dimensions where she posed provocative questions about the archetypes, metaphors, or images that are unconsciously guiding our lives. The questions she uses to uncover this symbolism are worth considering as a way to gain some altitude on viewing the arch of one’s life. Anyway, I learned that Vic’s dream was to be captain of a ship, a perfect metaphor for his past career as a school principal and current role as pilot of the Big EZ. What metaphor best represents your aspirations in life?

Somehow being in the presence of such stunning history going back to 1000-1200 AD made our conversation even more powerful. It is almost hard to believe you are looking at relics from the ancient culture who lived in this area for more than 700 years, generations before the Hopi, Ute, and Navajo tribes.

After turning around on the trail, we headed for the Spruce Tree House, one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the park.  This ruin turned out to be one of the best we have ever seen.

We couldn't help but think what it would have been like for the 19th century ranchers to have come upon this amazing sight.  A few areas that were crumbling or in danger of crumbling have been restored, but this dwelling of over 100 rooms remains quite similar to what it was like over one thousand years ago.

With more time to explore, we decided to go back to the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and watch the twenty-five minute film which provides an excellent overview of the history of the area.From here we drove the six-mile Mesa Top Loop Road, taking time to stop at most of the viewpoints.

The biggest highlight of the loop was an overlook which provided a good view of Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in the park. Had we known we were going to cut our other hiking intentions short, this tour is one we would have signed up for (as you can only visit the Cliff Palace on a guided tour ). Pretty darn amazing to see such awe-inspiring ancient history sites in our own country.

Looking at the cliff dwellings, I recalled a novel one of my students gave me to read as she knew I loved the author, Willa Cather. The novel, Song of the Lark, turned out to be one of my most memorable reads. The main character, Thea, escapes from Chicago to the Southwest where she has a powerful transformative experience of living for several days in a cliff dwelling. Even though I read this novel more than ten years ago, I can still remember the hauntingly beautiful scenes of Thea surrendering herself to days spent in harmony with the natural world. Cather believed anyone who visited the cliff dwellings could benefit from the power of being in the presence of these sacred places.

On our last day here, we were torn between taking a hike to the La Plata Canyon to see the wildflowers and mountain meadows or finally ride our bikes on the Animas River Trail. As we were getting ready to head out, Vic looked at me with droopy eyes and said he needed to lie down for awhile. Four hours later my typically stoic sweetheart woke up feeling a little better, but not well enough for any strenuous physical activity. Our third choice for the day was to take a drive to Vallecito Lake, one of the largest lakes in Colorado.  A main attraction at the lake is the Tour of Carvings, created as a memorial to the Missionary Ridge Fire that took place there in 2002.

The drive to Vallecito Lake from Durango takes almost an hour. The scenery along the way is quite pastoral with the beauty of the Pine River, and lots of log cabins and stunning ranches to feed the imagination along the way.

We had originally imagined the Tour of Carvings as something we could walk along a path on the waterfront. Not so. The fifteen carvings are located at different locations along an eighteen-mile drive. As a result, we did not take the time to see them all. The first carving we came across is dedicated to the the black bear and cubs who were killed when over 70,000 acres of the forest burned.

This carving is the most significant as it is dedicated to the one man who lost his life fighting the fire: Alan Wyatt.  They sure chose a powerful location for this tribute to the young man who “now stands looking at the burnt forest in a valley for which he gave his life trying to save.” We can imagine this place as a popular mountain retreat in the summer with all the boating and fishing recreation that takes place here.

This trip to the lake was our final adventure in our nine-day stint in Durango. That night we reserved for watching the real finale of Dancing with the Stars where Maks and Merrill took home the mirror ball trophy. All’s well that ends well. 

Next destination: a three-hour drive to Moab where we are looking forward to exploring Arches and Canyonland National Parks and meeting Gay and Joe of Good Times Rollin’!


  1. We need to return to Mesa Verde again someday and take a ranger led hike. We walked to the Spruce House during a motorcycle trip. It wasn't exactly comfortable with our motorcycle boots and jeans. I think hiking boots would work much better. Good you got a little hiking in while there. It certainly is a fascinating place. Every canyon in the Cedar Mesa area in the Four Corners area is filled with various ruins in the cliffs. Many can be hiked right up to see them. The eight days we spent hiking these canyons were my favorite. The ruins were there with no barriers.

    I would love to see the Tour of Carvings. Thanks for sharing these.

    So glad Max got his first win. I really thought Amy was amazing but I was hoping for Max and Merle. They were amazing.

    Pam, I am worried about Vic. Maybe you should have him checked out.

    Too bad you didn't wait til you got to Moab for your haircut. I found the best stylist there. Jason owns his own salon and he outstanding...even better than my stylist here at home! He is the only person I ever let do highlights except Lisa here in York. If you need more work done, let me know!!

    Have fun in Moab! Enjoy meeting Gay and Joe:) The hiking there is just awesome!

    1. Pam, first of all Vic is fine. It was definitely a combination of altitude, dry weather, and pollen.

      You would probably love reading Willa Cather's novel, Song of the Lark, as it really captures the magic of the cliff dwellings and their potential effect on our psyche.

      I never thought about the challenge of visiting these places on a motorcycle. Guess you'd have to pack boots and comfortable hiking clothes to make it worthwhile.

      Too bad about the haircut, but the girl in Durango did a decent job. (Life on the road lowers one's standard.)

      We are having a blast here in Moab--thanks in large part to the inspiration of you and John and Gay and Joe in getting us out on the trails.

  2. I enjoyed reading about things we did not do when we were in Durango from this post as well as the first post. We hope to return to Durango and now have lots of new things to do. We haven't visited Mesa Verde NP. It's on our list! The carving of Alan Wyatt is amazing!

    The forget-me-nots are beautiful!

  3. This is the second post I've read on Mesa Verde ... such a great place to visit. Thanks for those photos from the trail ... we'll know not to turn back ;-)

    When I was growing up, I always wanted to work for the airline industry ... didn't happen, but I see my deep desire to travel as a direct result of that aspiration. Mui says he wanted to be a soldier ... he did meet that aspiration when he joined the USAF when we moved to the US in 1982. His leadership roles and discipline, have paid dividends in our fulltiming lifestyle.

    1. I love that you are responding to my question about aspirations. Your travel to so many exotic places has definitely inspired my desire to see more of the world and I can definitely see Mui's leadership at work his many ingenious modifications to your motorhome. It's interesting to uncover some of these unconscious motivations at play.

  4. Wasn't that visitor center at Mesa Verde just amazing! The building and site itself were wonderful!

    There is no shame in knowing your limits and turning back when a trail gets to be too much. We too have learned that in the past year.

    I do hope Vic is okay...

    1. Sometimes it is hard to recognize one's limits when part of your goal is to expand them! Thanks for playing a part in our hiking aspirations.

  5. We have been to Mesa Verde twice. Just love that area.
    We missed the Avenue of the Carvings. Paul would have really enjoyed that ride.
    You will absolutely love Moab!
    Hope Vic is much better today.

    1. I did think about Paul and his carving talent when we saw these. The other place that I wanted to see with tree carvings is the Katrina Memorial in Ocean Springs. I can't remember if you went there, but the photos I have seen of the 50 trees there are not only impressive, but quite moving.

  6. Canyonlands is such a treat. It's one of the most beautiful places we have been yet. It's really cool after a thunderstorm and the light is still changing. You saw a lot in your time in Durango!

    1. We loved our day there, but we were only able to explore the Islands in the Sun part. Oh well, another great place to return to is a good thing.

  7. We visited that area prior to our retirement. Enjoyed the revisit through your pictures! Hoping Vic feels better soon! Still hoping our paths cross again soon! Miss ya!

    1. Vic is fully recovered--thanks. Miss you too. Tomorrow we are going to the Vegas resort where we had fun together two years ago. (Can you believe that it has been two years already?) Looking forward to our next adventure together wherever it may be. . . .

  8. Great Travel Journal, as always! Really enjoyed the Mesa Verde pics.


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