We left Monument Valley and headed to Colorado and hopefully cooler temperatures. It was a beautiful drive with more rock formations and occasional farmland with horses and cattle. We were surprised to see some working oil pumps.
Our destination was the McPhee Reservoir Recreation Area in the San Juan National Forest for a seven night stay. We had a lovely, private campsite with electric only located at an elevation of 7,200 feet. In the distance we saw snow capped mountains.
Near our campsite is an overlook of the reservoir. Where you see water now is where at one time the lumber company town of McPhee stood. In the late 1920’s McPhee was Colorado’s largest lumber mill town with a population of 1,400 and produced over half of the state’s lumber output. In 1948 after a second major fire in a decade destroyed the sawmill, it was not rebuilt. Today the former lumber town is submerged by reservoir waters.
One day we drove over to Mesa Verde National Park. As we were leaving our campground early in the morning we saw a very large herd of cattle being led down the road to another pasture. It was hard to get a good picture of the large herd because we were facing into the sun.
We were last at Mesa Verde National Park in 2015 (see link: Mesa Verde National Park, CO). The 52,000 acre park is one of the country’s major archeological preserves with almost 5,000 archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings. Mesa Verde, Spanish for “green table”, was the home of Ancestral Pueblo people for more than 750 years.
They lived in the area from around 500 A.D. to 1276 A.D. It was approximately around 1200 when they began to build the cliff dwellings that Mesa Verde is best known for today. When a drought struck that lasted for twenty-four years, it eventually forced the people to leave the area and migrate to New Mexico and Arizona in search of water and better living conditions.
Last time we were here we drove the loop road where some of the larger cliff dwellings are viewed from a distance. In order to see the cliff dwellings up close you have to go on a park ranger led tour for the very reasonable fee of $5.00.
This time Bill decided he wanted to take the hour long tour of the largest cliff dwelling in the United States, Cliff Palace. He had a reservation for 9:30 A.M. in order to avoid the hottest part of the day. Even though we were now in southwestern Colorado we were still having afternoon temperatures in the upper 80’s. The tour was labeled as strenuous with steep, uneven stone stairs both going and coming and you had to climb four steep ten foot wooden ladders to access the cliff dwelling. I decided not to go and waited in a shady seating area while he was gone. It was the idea of the four steep ten foot wooden ladders that got to me.
Bill had a great time but he did say the walk out was pretty strenuous. He said the ranger did a nice job describing what everyday life was like at the Cliff Palace over 800 years ago. Cliff Palace consisted of about 150 rooms made of sandstone and mortar made of sand, clay and ash. Water had to be hauled in to make the mortar. It is almost inconceivable to imagine how they accomplished this herculean effort in twenty years. In addition to the 150 rooms they had 75 open spaces and 21 kivas, below ground circular rooms used for ceremonies and gatherings.
After Bill’s tour we stopped at the archeological museum to see a movie about the park and view exhibits and artifacts on the Ancestral Puebloans.
We stopped by the Far View Sites where homes were built on the top of mesas.
After a late lunch it was starting to get quite hot and we were very glad we had gotten an early start.
Mesa Verde National Park is an amazing place!
Next up: more exploring in southwestern Colorado