On Tuesday we headed south out of Silverton to Durango.
The drive starts out mountainous and remote, and then, as you head to Durango, you start passing by villages of very large mansions and ski lodges along the road.
What is even going on with this terrible selfie?
We stopped at a grocery store in Durango and picked up a tray of meats, cheese, and crackers for lunch and snacks that day, and some snacks and drinks, then headed to Mesa Verde National Park!
We stopped in the Visitor’s Centre to plan our trip. The nice gentleman we spoke with asked us how much time we had to spend in the park today and circled a couple short hikes that we would have time for.
We bought an annual National Park pass here. You buy one per vehicle and if you visit 2-3 parks in a year, it pays for itself.
After visiting the visitors centre, we headed down the park road. It is a 40 minute drive to where all the interesting stuff is.
We stopped at the museum and stopped at the picnic table area for our lunch. It was definitely looking far more desert-like here compared to the mountain passes we had come through!
There were even cactuses or some sort of large aloe looking tropical plant.
After lunch, we headed to the museum where the Petroglyph Point Trail hike starts.
At the beginning of the hike, you overlook the Spruce Tree House across a valley.
This entire area was home to the ancestral Pueblo people who lived on top of the mesas and in cliff-dwelling houses like you see in the above photo. It was fascinating!
I only remember becoming aware of these cliff dwellings in the last few years. It just wasn’t on my radar or in Canadian history courses, since this is the southwestern United States obviously.
From here we left the crowds and started on the hike. It was only 3.9km so we figured it would be an easy one.
Then we saw these signs:
Can’t be too bad? The park ranger sized us up and still recommended this hike so we continued on.
I had two bottles of water in a bag on my back and my heavy Nikon hung on my neck. It was getting super warm in the sun so I was really glad I left that yellow fleece in the truck.
Jeff thought he had read this hike takes 1.5-2 hours, which seemed pretty long for 3.9 km. But the brochure said it was only tough to the petroglyphs and not the rest of the way, so off we went.
If you know me well, I have 3 great fears: spiders, snakes, and steep stairs with no railings. The last one is an irrational one I can’t explain, but I know I spent so much time as a kid freaked out completely on my Grandpa Verkley’s stairs up to the loft above the shop behind their house. I could get up there and poke around at all the fun stuff, but then I’d sit on the stairs and lose my mind over climbing back down.
So this hike turned out to feature some of these fears prominently. It wasn’t a tough hike, yet it was. It was rocky, along a cliff’s edge, with many stairs that were built into the rocks.
Have you ever never seen a particular object but knew the second you first saw it, exactly what it was?
Yes, me too, that’s why I started shouting “TARANTULA! TARANTULA!” to Jeff, who had just walked by this guy without even noticing him.
He was walking right towards me, down the path. I stopped for one quick picture and then walked by him as he continued on.
MY FIRST TARANTULA!
And hopefully last!?
After that, we both were nervous about grabbing trees to climb up and down the rocks, without first checking what was on the back of the tree. And every time my hair touched a tree, I was sure it was a big hairy spider.
Most of the steps weren’t bad, especially when the trail went up. I did sit down on some of the steps when they were going down without anything to hold on to, but I didn’t throw any sort of tantrums, ha!
The views were nice along the cliffs! We kept stopping to look up, not knowing where the petroglyphs actually were.
Although I’m in better physical condition than I’ve been in years, I kept forgetting that? I didn’t trust my knees so always had another point of contact with the rocks, but my knees were fine. I didn’t like stopping on the edge of the cliff on uneven terrain to look up and scour the rocks for signs of petroglyphs either, thinking I was going to get vertigo. Neither happened. I was fine.
Some of the trail was actually fun! Like squeezing through here!
The trees were great, and so was the shade from the hot sun. We felt like we’d been walking for 90 minutes – had we missed the petroglyphs?
When I saw this cliff edge ahead, I got super brave, and ready to shuffle along it. Crawl if I had to. But the path actually ducked below it. Whew!
There was a small ancient structure under one of the ledges. We met another hiker who said it was a grainery. There were numbers here and there but no pamphlets available for a guided description with a sign explaining the new guides didn’t match the numbers anyway.
Then Jeff went around a corner and saw an out-of-place wooden fence with a sign telling you not to touch the drawings. We found the petroglyphs!!
Right after this, the hike got significantly scarier (for me). We could see the edge of the cliff up above and I knew we were somehow getting up there. We seemed to be climbing up and then we’d go back down. At some point we were going to have to summit that cliff! Jeff offered to take the camera at this point and I felt rejuvenated not having that thing hang on my neck!
Then we came to this rock area, again right on the side of the cliff, where there was a large rock to the left of the narrow footpath. To get up, I had to turn myself around, and lift my left leg to place my foot in the one and only little foothold on the rocks that was super high, then grab the edge of the rocks above with my hands and pull myself up the rock side, landing on my knees on the pathway up above. Jeff was standing up there offering a hand, but I could only picture myself pulling him right off the cliff to the
tarantulas depths below so I made him get back so I could try. I had no choice, go back, or nail this, so I sucked it up and did it!
After that we finally climbed more steep stairs and got up above the cliff.
I was feeling pretty damn proud of myself for doing that hike! Oh wait, we were only half way done!? But the rest was an easy walk on mostly level terrain back to the museum. Easy peasy! Just had to step over various logs of animal poo here and there that we learned later was probably from a cougar.
Look at this cool cactus growing in a hole in the rock!
Here’s a closer view as we passed over the Spruce House again:
This dwelling was built centuries ago. There are actually about 130 rooms in this one.
After finishing the hike, we took the Mesa Top Loop to do a self driving tour to see various historical structures and pit houses. There were many stops around a 10 km / 6 mi loop where you could jump out and see things.
Some of the really old evidence of ancient pit houses have been protected under roofs with even windows that seal off to keep out the elements. Like this one:
Look at this cliff dwelling! It has several floors. Who knows how they even got in and out of this thing! It was half way up the side of a cliff!
Let’s use that new iPhone zoom!
In the summer time, you can book guided tours to actually step foot in the cliff dwellings, which we were unable to do. Here are some of the ones you can tour:
Knowing the park was set to close by sunset, we finished our self driving tour then drove back north towards the highway. Once we got a cell signal I booked a hotel room nearby in Cortez, Colorado.
Cortez turned out to be really close by. We checked into the Holiday Inn Express and despite being tired and hungry, the gal at the front desk mentioned they had laundry facilities available, so we bundled up a load of dirties and did a load before heading to a Mexican restaurant for supper.
I never know what to order in a Mexican restaurant, so I went for something chicken based with beans and rice and guacamole and corn torillas it was great! Jeff had a super burrito.
Unfortunately the dryer didn’t have heat, but we didn’t know it until the first 20 minutes expired. So we hung our damp laundry all over the hotel room to dry overnight.
My night shirt was really wet. Jeff suggested I blow dry it. But I noticed the iron and ironing board so I tried that instead. Jeff was so tickled at the sight of me actually ironing something that he took this shot and sent it to my mom and sister to tell them I was ironing his clothes!
We were thinking about that tarantula all afternoon. I had only taken one photo of it, on my Nikon camera, and I didn’t have my laptop or any easy way to download the photo for sharing. In our minds we were wondering if it was really a tarantula or if we had blown it way out of proportion in our memory. So I opened the picture on the back of the camera and snapped a shot with my iPhone to prove it was a hairy spider beast after all!
Here’s the route we took on Tuesday, from Silverton, then visited Mesa Verde, then on to Cortez:
Wait until you see where we went next! Another place on Jeff’s bucket list! Coming soon…