We thought we might get an early start on Monday and have time for both a ranger-led tour, and the self-guided portion of the other half of the park, Weatherill Mesa . . . but we didn’t! We started to leave around 10am, but then we saw the UPS guy driving up the driveway of the ranch next to the RV Park, and since our new mattress was due to be delivered “by the end of the day” on Monday, we figured we’d better wait around for him.
Sure enough, he came to the campground next, and we were able to have him follow us up to the RV to drop off the 120 lb. package! We took out our old mattress and unpacked the new one from the multiple layers of shrink wrap that were compressing it . . . we left it laying out on the platform to finish expanding while we were at Mesa Verde.
OK, so we got an even later start, but we were glad to have gotten the mattress. Arriving at Mesa Verde, we stopped at the Visitor Center to check the status of ranger-led tours. We could have gotten into one in the afternoon, but none of us were too excited about it, so we decided to just drive the Weatherill Mesa side of the park and do the self-guided tours.
Nicolas was doing the driving this time . . . . and the road down to the Weatherill Mesa information area had LOTS of switchbacks!
He did a fine job managing the grades and curves, and we stopped at a few overlooks for a view of Montzuma Valley.
The wildflowers were in bloom and the fields were full of them!
This area of Mesa Verde had been hit by a wildfire in 2000, and the landscape was still showing the effects . . .
We stopped at the last overlook before we reached the Visitor Area, and could already see the evidence of some smaller cliff dwellings.
We arrived at the parking area and enjoyed our picnic lunch in the picnic shelter. On this side of the park, there is one cliff dwelling that you can hike to, and another that is only accessible by ranger-led tour. There is a tram that takes people out to the tour, and also takes visitors to several overlooks and an area of mesa top dwellings.
The 1pm tram was designated as a tour tram, and we would need to wait for the 1:30 tram so we decided to take the 1-mile hike down to Step House.
One thing that we noticed right away is that this half of the park is WAAAAY less crowded than the other half, and the hike down to Step House is quite a bit easier than the one to Spruce Tree House.
Nicolas found a rock wall that was shaded from the sun, and cool to lean against!
We continued our hike, and Nicolas was on the lookout for more “undiscovered” cliff dwellings.
Bryce had already had enough of Mesa Verde! LOL!
Step House is a smaller cliff dwelling than those on the Chapin Mesa side, but more accessible.
The dwelling is in pretty good shape, although there is some evidence of the wildfire that ravaged this area of the park.
The Kiva (ceremonial room) appears to have undergone some restoration,
and we decided that this was probably a kid’s room . . .
After exploring Step House, we made our way back up to the top, arriving just in time for the 1:30 tram ride!
Nicolas thought that the prehistoric steps might have been a little faster than the path we took, but we made it!
The trams they use are just like the one we had at Lover’s Key, so we felt right at home!
The tram ride was really convenient – much better than driving your own car from stop to stop! Our first stop was the Badger House Community, which is a series of 4 pit house villages. The walk through them takes about 25 minutes, and there is a tram stop at each end, so by the time you complete the walk, the next tram will be there to pick you up.
Structures have been built over each of the pit house villages to protect them from the elements.
These villages were originally built around 1050 A.D., and then deserted, and another group of Puebloans added to the structures about 200 years later, until they were completely abandoned around 1300 A.D..
The pit house communities were in the area that burned in 2000, but they were unharmed. The area now looks like a giant meadow, with no trees remaining.
Bryce had his fill of pit houses, so he waited for the rest of us at the tram stop . . . this wasn’t his favorite national park!
Back on the tram, we stopped for a few minutes at the Kodak House overlook,
and the Long House Overlook, where we saw the tour group.
Looking down at the group on tour, Nicolas noticed that there was a person in a green shirt standing separately from the rest of the group, and he commented that he didn’t look like he was enjoying the tour . . . I responded that he was probably 14! LOL – Bryce didn’t appreciate that, but the other people with us got a laugh out of it!
From there, the tram took us back to our cars, and we made the hour-long drive back out of the park. I think we got our fill of Mesa Verde!!