Why I Visited Mesa Verde National Park Instead Of The Warren Jeffs Polygamy Compound

mesa verde national parkOn my last morning in southwest Colorado, I went to the public library in Mancos to decide if I should spend my last hours in the state trying to track down polygamists at the Warren Jeffs compound just outside town or if should visit Mesa Verde National Park.

“The Jeffs people really keep to themselves,” said a friendly, bearded librarian named Lee.

“And I don’t imagine they’re very keen on giving interviews.”
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Since I’d already met some much nicer polygamists anyway, it was settled; I was off to Mesa Verde, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its ancient cliff dwellings that were once inhabited by Ancestral Puebloans, sometimes called the Anasazi, who lived in the region from around 600 A.D. until about 1300 A.D.

On a brisk Wednesday morning in early January, I had Mesa Verde (“green table” in Spanish) almost all to myself. I turned up at the visitor’s center just after 10 a.m. and the park ranger said I was the first visitor the day. If you enter the park from Route 160, near Cortez, about a half-hour from Durango, it’s about a half-hour drive (up to 45 minutes if you’re a cautious driver) to see the cliff dwellings and pithouses.


I took the six-mile Mesa Top Loop and after stopping at a few pithouses, which were used as dwellings from about 550-750 B.C, I felt like I should have pursued the polygamists. The pithouses are primitive homes that are essentially shallow pits dug into the ground and you need a fairly active imagination to appreciate them.

mesa verde national parkBut after catching a glimpse of the Balcony House, the Cliff Palace, the Square Tower House and some of the other cliff dwellings, I was glad that I made the effort to visit the park. There is something undeniably powerful about seeing these ancient dwellings, perched precariously in a stunning alpine setting that inspires you to want to learn more about Native American history.

Historians believe that the population of this area may have reached several thousand people in the 12th and 13th Centuries, and most of the cliff dwellings you can see today were built between 1190-1270. The largest is the Cliff Palace, which has about 150 rooms. The fact that the Ancestral Puebloans went through all the trouble of constructing these elaborate dwellings only to abandon the area only 100 years or so later, tells us that they were likely compelled to leave because of severe drought or the reality that they’d depleted all of Mesa Verde’s natural resources.



It’s difficult to prioritize one’s time in the Four Corners region on a short trip, as you have three national parks within three hours of Durango – Mesa Verde, Canyonlands and Arches, plus Monument Valley, the Four Corners monument, not to mention all the ski resorts and other sites in the area. I’m not a huge fan of archaeological sites, but I wouldn’t leave this region without spending at least a couple hours visiting Mesa Verde because it will remind you that although we aren’t really the “young country” we’re made it out be.



[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]

10 days, 10 states: Durango, Colorado

“I’m going back to Colorado, rolling down the highway, just my life to carry, it’s written in the wind again” -Ozark Mountain Daredevils

From the corner barstool of Carver Brewing Co., my earthy colored oatmeal stout is a welcome compliment to the outdoor mountain air. Set in the heart of Durango, Colorado’s gridlined downtown, the eclectic crowd of trendy college students and weather-hardened ranchers is mirthfully keeping the craft-brewed taps flowing.

Aside from being the dark, perfectly roasted flavor of my Iron Horse stout, the flavor of oatmeal is an apt metaphor for what is southwestern Colorado’s largest town; home to a population of 16,000 residents, Durango is large enough to be eventful, but small enough to seem homey. Like the porridge, it’s just about right.

I’ve come to Durango whilst researching, “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”, and during a leisurely amble down the banks of the Animas River, its brisk waters aglow with fallen yellow leaves, it’s a safe bet to say that this town is really growing on me. Fast.

First populated by the Anasazi tribes, Native Americans whose cavernous stone cliff dwellings have made nearby Mesa Verde National Park a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Durango became a Western boomtown when gold was discovered in the nearby San Juan mountains.Though the gold was fleeting, the iron rails were not, and by 1881 trains were officially linking Durango to the rest of the wild west.

Over my morning cup of coffee, an extra large to-go style cup from one of the historic downtown’s many artsy cafes, I find myself standing with a railroad operator who’s manning the tracks of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. A 45-mile system of track that weaves its way between the two historic mining towns, the train has been described by various outlets as being the best train ride in all of North America. Using original locomotives from the 1920′s still propelled by steam and coal, the line has swapped cars full of mineral ores and precious metals for camera-toting tourists who’ve come to salivate over the view of the snow-covered high mountain passes.

%Gallery-139132%Relishing the last few drops of my coffee, I watch in romantic awe as wide, white puffs of smoke explode from the front of the train and linger in the frozen morning air. As carloads of families thunder by me, all of them embarking on a legendary foray through the San Juans, I realize that I, too, want to be toting a camera aboard the train. I want to salivate over that view.

In fact, as I retrace my steps towards Rotary Park, the type of calming, riverside open space you’d expect to find in a college town (Fort Lewis College keeps Durango vibrant and young), I am loathe to leave this Rocky Mountain hamlet. Sure, I have the rest of the country to go and explore, but for the time being, I like it here. And I really want to stay.

Much of the chatter around the brewpub in town, I noticed, was centered around two central topics: how good the mountain biking had been that past summer, and how good the winter was shaping up to be at nearby Durango Mountain Resort, the local ski slope and recreation paradise just twenty minutes outside of town.

These, I noted, are both things I really enjoy doing. I like biking, I like boarding, and I really love a good brewery. I like small towns where you can wander down main street to peruse the galleries of award winning photographers, yet that are only twenty miles removed from open countryside where you might stumble upon something as classically western as a fast-paced livestock auction.

With winter bearing down on my new favorite mountain town, however, it’s time to once again slink behind the wheel and head south for warmer climes; there’s a freedom in these mountains, and it makes me want to drive.

Follow Kyle on the rest of his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”

Celebrate national s’mores month at a national park

August is National S’mores month (Who knew?!?) and the 10th is actually National S’mores Day. In honor of this sweet occasion, several national parks will hold a celebration of the chocolate-marshmallow treat that is one of America’s favorite summertime snacks. Visitors to the parks on that day, and throughout the month, will have the opportunity to enjoy the popular confection while swapping stories around the campfire.

Two of the more popular parks that have events planned include Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Shenandoah will play host to the Backyard Barbecue & S’Mores Festival on August 21st, which will serve up plenty of ribs and chicken, as well as down home music, to go along with those sticky treats. Meanwhile, visitors to Mesa Verde can take advantage of the complete camper package, which includes a reserved campsite, a pancake breakfast, two seats on the Far View Explorer tour, and all of the fix’ns necessary to make your own s’mores.

Preparing your own s’mores is an extremely easy affair. You’ll need just three ingredients: graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate bars. With those items on hand, you simply melt the marshmallows, preferably over an open campfire, and place it on a graham cracker. Then, put the chocolate bar onto a second graham cracker, and combine it with the first. When squished together, the hot marshmallow will partially melt the chocolate bar, creating a yummy snack that few can resist.

If you can’t make it to one of the parks to celebrate National S’mores Month, perhaps you can have a celebration of your own.

[Photo credit: Jonathunder via WikiMedia Commons]

Mesa Verde National Park offers new guided tours for 2010

Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is preparing to open next Thursday, April 22nd, and to celebrate, the park will be offering several exciting new guided tours. Additionally, the Fair View Lodge, the only hotel within the park’s boundaries, has spring time specials for those who elect to stay on site when they visit.

The most popular attraction in Mesa Verde is the world famous cliff dwellings that were once inhabited by the Pueblo Indians, prior to their move from a hunter-gatherer tribe to a more advanced agrarian society. The park offers a number of great interpretive tours of those ruins, including the three-hour long “Classic Pueblo”, which includes visits to Triple Cities, Square Tower overlook, Sun Point and Sun Temple, The tour also includes a hike to Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America. The price for this archeological and cultural walk through the past is just $35 for adults and $17.50 for children 11 and under.

For something a bit more in depth, check out the “Far View Explorer”, which is five hours in length and includes visits to a number of archeological sites throughout the park, including the Spruce Tree House in the Chapin Mesa area. The cost of this tour is $25 for adults and $12.50 for children, and includes a box lunch.

Finally, the half-day long “700 Years” tour visits Pueblo sites that span the length of the tribe’s history, beginning in 600 AD and running through 1300 AD. Visitors are shuttled throughout the park aboard comfortable coaches, taking short hikes on a variety of trails and visit ancient dwellings. Running four hours in length, the price of this tour is $45 for adults and $34 for kids 11 and under.

To entice visitors further, the park is offering their Spring into Mesa Verde package for travelers who want to spend the night at the Fair View Lodge. $139 gets you a nights stay in a standard room at the lodge and includes two reserved seats on the Classic Pueblo tour. This price reflects a 25% savings over booking the stay and tour independently. To make your reservation, call 866-292-8295 or visit visitmesaverde.com and use the promo code SPRING10.

Select national park resorts offer deals on lodging and tours for National Parks Week

National Parks Week is set to take place from April 17 through the 25, and to celebrate, Aramark, an authorized concessioner of the National Park Service, has announced several great deals on lodging, tours, and retail items.

Several of the lodges that fall under Aramark management are offering two-for-one deals. For example, the visitors to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia can book a nights stay at Skyland Resort for $125 and receive the next nights stay absolutely free. The offer runs from April 18-29, with the deal extending to consecutive nights only. Similarly, visitors to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado can stay for $99 on their first night, and get their second consecutive night free as well. This offer is good from April 22-30.

Visitors to Olympic National Park have multiple choices in their place to stay, with three lodges running specials Book an evening in the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, Kalaloch Lodge or Lake Crescent Lodge for $157 and you’ll receive the second night free. The offer is good in the first two resorts from April 17-25, and in the Lake Crescent Lodge from May 7-31, but must be booked by April 25.

Finally, visitors to the Yellowstone National Park can stay in the Togwotee Mountain Lodge, located 44 miles from the South Entrance, for just $99 for the first night, and receive the second consecutive night free. The booking must be made by April 25, but is valid for stays between May 21 and June 28.

For more great deals from Aramark, including special pricing on tours, t-shirts and more, click here. Most of the special offers are good through National Park Week, when entry to every park in the system will also be free.