I love the idea of staying in a National Park. I love the idea of waking up before the park gets busy, grabbing that moment of solitude inside a national treasure, or staying up late to hear the animals and see the dark skies long after the crowds move on for the day. But if I am honest with you; I am spoiled. I love my electrical sites and I love my life more when I have easy access to water. There I said it. So, because of this, I find taking my camper to national parks somewhat challenging. I have a large camper and it does not always fit in the spaces available.
When we decided to visit Mesa Verde National Park I was most excited to see that they have a small number of full hookup RV sites at Morefield Campground. With early planning, we were able to secure three of the 15 full hookup sites for our visit.
We arrived at Mesa Verde after a short (less than 4 hour) drive along Colorado Highway 160 from Alamosa. Upon arriving at Mesa Verde our daughter had the experience of actually using her Every Child in the Park pass and taking us to a National Park.
We spent two nights and roughly three jammed packed days inside the park. We had a nice balance of some relaxing time, some hiking, and some exploring of ancient communities.
Staying at Morefield Campground was everything I had always knew staying inside the park would be. It was peaceful, there were breathtaking views, and intimate animal encounters. I felt like we were some place special from the moment we arrived. The sites were spacious and had grass, shrubs, and trees, the exact opposite of what we experienced in Yellowstone at Fishing Bridge.
One funny thing about our site at Mesa Verde, the sewer connection was uphill from our camper. We were a little “worried” because we all know stuff rolls down hill and not uphill. We established a back up plan: use the holding tanks and the dump station at the bottom of the campground. But since we were only there for two nights, we managed.
Nightly there were Ranger Lead Programs in the campgrounds although we never attended any of these. By the time we reached our campers at the end of the evening, we were worn out and ready for bed.
One of my favorite vacation activities is hiking. Mesa Verde National Park has several different hiking options. Their hiking trails seem to be batched by area and there are three different areas: Morefield Campground has three trailheads, Chapin Mesa has four trailheads, and Wetherill Mesa has two trailheads. We elected to hike the Petroglyph Point Trail from the Chapin Mesa area.
The Petroglyph Point Trail is a 2.4 mile loop that takes you past a large petroglyph panel as well as evidence of ancient Pueblo homes. We found the trail challenging, which was a level of fun for everyone in our group. The age ranges of our group varied from 7 to 65 years old.
Mesa Verde is most known for their Ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings so if you are visiting this national park, planning to visit the dwellings is a very important part of the experience. There are two ways to see the cliff dwellings: a ranger led tour and the self-guided tour. We did a combination of both. We were able to do self-guided tour to see Spruce House, the third largest cliff dwelling and best preserved, from the Chapin Mesa Visitor Center. Currently there are not any tours to Spruce House so seeing it from afar will have to suffice.
We purchased tickets to tour both the Balcony House and Cliff Palace. Tickets were $5 per person and we purchased our tickets the night before at the ranger station by Morefield Campground.
I, personally, had a lot of anxiety about taking the two tours and visiting Balcony House and Cliff Palace. The park brochure gave fair warning to visit the dwelling you would climb multiple ladders, of various sizes (8 to 10 feet long, 32 foot long, and up to 60 feet long) making a verticle ascent of 100 feetup exposed cliff face, crawling through a tiny tunnel, and using a series of stone steps.
I do not like ladders! Can I even fit into a tiny tunnel? And… what was it about exposed cliff faces? OH MY GOODNESS! I tried very hard not to show it, but these were the questions running through my head all day long.
We toured Balcony House first and as I stood at the base of that large 60 foot ladder my heart pounded. We had to ascend it two by two and I found myself with Meeghan’s husband, Mr. Calm Cool and Collected. The guide told us that we just needed to keep three points of contact with the ladder at all times, which I repeated over and over all the way up the ladder. Maybe I even said it outloud. This is probably why Mr. Calm kept looking at me like “I can’t believe I got paired up with this crazy lady!”
As freaked out as I was, with as much anxiety as I entered touring these dwellings with, it all melted away. I challenged myself and I felt the growth because of it. Isn’t that what a vacation is about? Stepping outside your normal routine and doing something new. For me, it is and I find that I return from my travels a little stronger than I was before.
I found out the ladders were super sturdy. They were no were near as wobbly at the ladders we use at home to hang Christmas lights. You know the ones you threaten your children with their lives if they leave the bottom rung while you are on it. (Oh wait, maybe that is just me?) As far as the tunnel, well it was tight, but we all made it, and maybe had fun doing so. The tour guides (park rangers) are pretty specific about not touching the walls of the dwellings as it will leave oils on the rock. So, we did a great job of balancing and I am happy to say, no one fell off the cliff face.
The tours are well attended. They are quick, you only spend about an hour on each tour, but we learned a lot about kiva’s, corn, and the Puebloan people. It is amazing to see dwellings that have been around for centuries still standing (yes, some of them may have had a little help being rehabbed but who does not need a face lift after a few hundred years).
As we would soon learn, this National Park is alive and exciting but most of that excitement is below the canyon. If you are willing to take a walk, descend down the canyon you are going to see some amazing things.
Mesa Verde was a joy to visit. We crammed a lot into the three days and two nights we were there. To recap our trip we:
- Stayed at Morefield campground
- Toured Balcony and Cliff Palace
- Obtained Junior Ranger Badges
- Hiked the Petroglyph Trail
- Learned a lot about Puebloan history and the plants they harvested.
In case you have been following along, this stop was the third stop on the Betty and Roxy Desert Vacation of 2018.