CO – Mesa Verde National Park and the La Platas (10/22)

I’d dropped down to the community of Rico after hiking in the Lizard Head Wilderness (blog link). My phone pinged with a message from my Banff friends saying they were in Colorado within an hour of my location. So we made a plan to meet at Mesa Verde the next day. I’ve visited a few times but never when the Wetherill Mesa Road was open. I was even more excited to find out our mutual friend, a park ranger, would be leading a tour at Long House.

Scary stuff! “This 60-minute, ranger-assisted tour involves hiking 2.25 miles (3.6 km) roundtrip with an elevation gain of about 130 feet (40 m) and climbing two 15-foot (4.5 m) ladders within the site.” Source: NPS

This is my friend Leslie playing Vana White. Reservations are required to be on the tour and self-guided entrance isn’t an option.

It’s a special privilege to gain entry into the rooms not visible from the trail.

No one panicked on our tour. Soon it was our turn and we too survived.

According the NPS website, “Long House was excavated and stabilized between 1959 and 1961 as part of the Wetherill Mesa Archeological Project. Long House is nearly equal in size to Cliff Palace with about 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and a row of upper storage rooms. It may have been home to 150 to 175 people. Some of the architectural features in Long House suggest it was also a public place where people from all over Wetherill Mesa gathered to trade or hold community events. The formal plaza in the center of the site is larger than most villages and has some features not often found in other Mesa Verde archeological sites. For instance, the benches, vaults, and a raised firebox may indicate that this large open space was a dance plaza or great kiva, similar to Fire Temple on Chapin Mesa. The high number of rooms and kivas in Long House, plus the presence of the formal plaza suggest the community was a particularly significant place for Ancestral Pueblo people, perhaps serving both civic and ceremonial functions.” 

Ranger Jackie did an excellent job sharing stories and creating an experience where we could what life might have been like in this community.

My buddies Leslie and Jackie making this day memorable.

Petroglyph Point Trail

This is one of the more fun trails in the park. I hiked it back in 2018 and when Ranger Jackie recommended to Leslie we said YES!

There are around 600 sites in Mesa Verde with only a view easily available to the public. Ranger Jackie recommended binocular use. Neither Leslie nor I are very proficient with them.

Spruce Tree House

You gain a view into Spruce House from the beginning and end of the Petroglyph Point Trail. I was fortunate to tour it back in 2015.

Cliff Palace

This is still my favorite and the one I want to tour. We viewed from the road as there isn’t a trail without a ticket for a closer view.

La Plata Mountains

This range has been on my list for a while and while visiting Jackie I was gifted the opportunity. “The La Plata Mountains are a small subrange of the San Juan Mountains in the southwestern part of Colorado, United States. They are located on the border between Montezuma and La Plata counties, about 12 miles northwest of Durango. Their name is Spanish for silver. The peaks of the range are easily visible from U.S. Route 160, which skirts the range on the south. The La Plata River and the Mancos River have their headwaters in the range. The Colorado Trail accesses even towards the northern peaks. The best-known and highest peak in the La Plata Mountains is Hesperus Mountain, which is the Navajo sacred mountain of the north.” Source: Wikipedia

How could I resist a trail with aspen in the name?

I indeed found color!

Sadly the Aspen Loop was filled with cows leaving the a mucky muddy and poo-filled trail so I decided to try Big Al Trail. It was fantastic! It was a great reminder that sometimes short trails are worthy. I switched colorful aspen to oaks.

Thankfully the cows behaved and stayed off this trail.

Nearby was the Rim Trail I couldn’t resist for the views.

I found more gorgeous oaks.

I had fantastic views of the La Plata peaks.

With all the time I spent this summer on The Colorado Trail it was exciting to see this access trail.

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