Mesa Verde and the Four Corners

As with many couples in our age and social bracket, a full-blown honeymoon was not to be after our  wedding. We had a job to get to, family and friends visiting from out of town and too much to do to take off for the three weeks (or more!) that would have been ideal.

Instead, we did an equally low-key ‘mini-moon’ to go with our low key wedding.

We decided to go to Mesa Verde National Park.  A chance to see a place with a deep past that still reverberates in the current history of the southwest.

It would not be a backcountry experience, but it will still be a memorable trip.

We arrived at the park in late morning after camping out near Wolf Creek Pass the night before.

Quickly picked out a camp spot, paid for it and immediately booked a $3 tour of both the Cliff Palace and the Balcony House. The tours are the only way to see these pieces of history.

The Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America and is approx 800 years old.


Being the offseason, the tour was not that crowded. Still, a bit more people than I am used to. Apparently, during the summer months, the tour can have 50 people.

With these many people and the need to preserve the buildings, the ranger (understandably) kept a close watch on everyone and really regulated the hike.  Understandable..but not my preferred way of exploring.

Still, I was able to get some decent photos in, including ones of the famous “T-shaped” doors the Anasazi (or, Ancestral Pueblos to us the more modern usage) made famous.

After this tour, we quickly made our way to the Balcony House.

This tour was called an “adventure tour” by the park.  A little scrambling, walking and climbing up ladders.

Due to the time of the tour (4 pm) and the more adventurous nature of the tour, there were fewer people. And the people on the tour were more laid back as well.  The ranger who led the tour was also very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and very encouraging of us and our questions.

Balcony House itself had an amazing view in Soda Ash Canyon along what almost looked like suburban deck.


It was a quiet and peaceful place and where the ranger let us linger to take it all in.

We climbed back to the top of the mesa and made our way back to the campsite.

Along the way, we stopped at self-guided walking tour of an even older Pueblo village (~1100 CE)


And caught the sunset at the Park Point Lookout

We settled back into camp and relaxed under the southwest night sky….

The following morning, we did a self-guided tour of the Spruce Tree House

And did a short (~3 mile ) hike to see petroglyphs from there.

On the way to the petroglyphs, we saw one the 600+ cliff dwellings not necessarily on the park maps.

Upon reaching the petroglyphs, we were impressed.

After the petroglyphs, we played windshield tourist and looked at other pueblos and cliff dwellings. Being both a UNESCO site and a National Park, Mesa Verde is very protected.  The only way to see of these sites was to play windshield tourist interspersed with short walks.  So we did.

But the archeological sites were impressive.   Square Tower house esp. so.

Another evening back in camp after all this exploring proved to be relaxing.

The following morning,  we took advantage to our location to many local attractions and went to the excellent Anasazi Heritage Museum nearby (with its short hike to a pueblo) and made the almost mandatory trek the Four Corners monument.

The four corners area itself is very desolate and has an isolated feeling


Though the offseason, the monument was busy.   I had to be patient and get a photo without any people.

Sorry, no cheesy “one limb in each state” photo. 🙂

We headed back to the park and took a stroll along one of the few hiking trails in the park.

The old auto road is now single track and featured amazing sunset views.

Some mule deer greeted us on the way:

And the evening light was great with a slight breeze blowing in

And the final sunset over Sleeping Ute Mountain was awesome


We made our way back to the campsite and wished we had more time. A trip to the more isolated Canyon of the Ancients would have been nice and maybe a jaunt to Monument Valley.  So much to see, do and experience.  Some other time….



  • The Mesa Verde page has directions for camping, tours to see,  directions and so on
  • The park brochure map is more than adequate for navigating and the small amount of hiking that can be done
  • The camping is pleasant, but nothing special. It is a great location to make ‘base camp’ to explore the area. A few of our neighbors in the campground would leave early in the morning and come back later at night. At $25 night it is expensive for camping, but inexpensive for lodging.  The campground features free hot showers, a coin-op laundry, a decently stocked camp store, a cafeteria (closed after Labor Day) and WiFi (I did not make use of it.  But, if you are traveling, could be useful).
  • When to go?  After Labor Day, the park is quieter, has fewer people and the weather is great.   Take two full days to see everything in the park that is still open. (Wetherill Mesa is closed after Labor Day and would be a full day in itself to see the self-guided tours.  Can’t imagine going there in the summer, though!)
  • Mesa Verde is NOT a backcountry park and is very regulated.  Don’t go looking for an outdoor experience. Having said that, there are some short hikes. The petroglyph hike from the Spruce Tree House is actually a nice hike in its own right. The Knife Edge hike near the campground had a spectacular sunset.
  • By mid-October or so, the park pretty much closes down completely
  • Do see the nearby  Anasazi Heritage  Center. Awesome!  I’d pass on the Four Corners monument (unless you like tourist trinkets and arbitrary lines that make more sense to a surveyor rather than natural cultural and/or land features 🙂 ). If you do go, it is $3 ea for admission. Cheesy ‘four limbs in each state photo’ is free! 😉
  • How to follow up this trip? We plan on going to Chaco Canyon after Christmas!
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