It took almost 30 minutes to reach the top of the mesa due to active road construction zones. We looked through the brochure we received at the entrance of the park and discovered all types of tours being offered - including a 4-hour bus tour of the park. Unfortunately, we had already missed the morning departures and we didn't really want to wait around for the afternoon tours knowing we still had a long drive to Albuquerque ahead of us. We made our way to the visitor center to inquire about the best way for us to see the park in no more than 3 or 4 hours. To our surprise, the line at the visitor center stretched outside the building. I got in line while Traci went inside to find out what was going on. I'm glad she did because it turned out our best option with the limited time we had was to drive to the various sites on our own. There was no need to stand in the long line for tour registration. Before heading to the car, we browsed the small informative museum inside the visitor center. There was no line for that.
scenic but scary ride up the mesa
It took us about 20 minutes to drive to the Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling site. I had no idea the park was so big. Some of the other sites can take as long as 45 minutes to drive to. Anyway, the cliff dwellings at Spruce Tree House were occupied by the Anasazi Indians between 1200 and 1300 AD. As with several dwellings in the park, 90% - 95% of this site remains intact. The Indians were masters at carving homes into these rocky cliffs. To get a close-up look at the site, Traci and I had to walk a 1/2 mile down a paved winding path. Once there, we were able to marvel at the ingenuity the Indians used to create these living quarters. They used ladders to climb down into some of the rooms. Traci and I were allowed to climb into one of them.
walking to the cliff dwellings
"We made it to the site."
"I'll be right back."
While talking to one of the rangers at Spruce Tree House, I mentioned that we were on our way to the Four Corners Monument after leaving Mesa Verde. She said she had heard the Four Corners Monument closes at 5 PM. Upon hearing this, Traci and I realized our Mesa Verde sightseeing was going to have to end right away if we were going to make it to the Four Corners before closing time. It was approaching 3 PM and I'd heard it was an hour drive from the Mesa Verde Park entrance. With the park entrance a half hour away from where we were at the time, we had little time to waste. We thanked the ranger and headed up the hill to the parking lot.
We knew we would have to pace ourselves during the walk up the pathway because at this elevation there is less oxygen than we are used to at home. Along the way, we saw several people hunched over trying to catch their breath. Despite this, they would shake their heads and chuckle at the effect the altitude was having on their bodies. The walk wasn't too bad for Traci and me. We were already used to the altitude at this point in the vacation. We did take a short break along the way for me to practice speaking French with a Canadian couple we recognized from the Durango & Silverton train ride the previous day. The conversation quickly switch to English when the lady asked me something in French so fast it left me standing there like a deer in a headlight.
I rode the brake all the way down the mesa. Along the way, I paused for Traci to take a picture of a coyote staring at us from the side of the road. I later stopped at a pull-off so that we could take a picture of an incredible view. Unfortunately, the camera cannot capture the true experience of seeing it with your own eyes.
We saw this coyote on our way down the mesa.
The ride to the Four Corners Monument was about an hour on a two-laned desert road. We arrived there around 4:30. It turns out the ranger at Mesa Verde Park was not correct. The Four Corners Monument closed at 7 PM - not at 5 PM. We had plenty of time to spare.
The Four Corners Monument is a small gated area in the middle of the desert. There is nothing else in this area for several miles. What makes this such an interesting stop is that it marks the only place in the U.S. where the borders of four states meet at a single point. You can literally be in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah at the same time! We were charged $3 per person to enter the parking lot. There weren't many people there that day. We all took turns taking pictures of each other posing in all four states at the same time.
4 states simultaneously: Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico
The monument is surrounded by vendor booths of an Indian market. Jewelry and souvenirs are sold here. Despite the impromptu look of the place, Traci and I were impressed with the variety and uniqueness of the items being sold. Even though Traci had bought the jewelry set she was looking for two days ago in Silverton, Colorado, she couldn't pass up the opportunity to buy an even nicer set at this Indian Market. She went to each of the booths (in all four states) and had made several jewelry purchases by the time she was finished. She got better deals here than she had gotten anywhere else all week.
While Traci was bargain hunting, I was chatting with one of the Indian vendors on the Colorado side. He was telling me that the people in this area are huge basketball fans. They love the sport from the professional level all the way down to the local level. Oddly enough, the local high school game that has the biggest draw in this region is The Cowboys versus The Indians.
During the course of our conversation, I was able to get confirmation on the route I had chosen to get to Albuquerque. I was also able get a suggestion on where to find decent restaurants in this desolate area. After all, in this region of the country there seems to be "nothing but dirt" as my vendor friend described. He told me there was really nothing until I got to the city of Farmington, New Mexico which is about an hour away. There he said we'd be able to find places like Outback and Applebee's.
We took his advice and set off on our drive through the desert. It was dark by the time we reached Farmington. We spent a half hour driving around the city looking for Applebee's. I'm not sure if I received wrong directions from the locals I asked or if I just was not a good listener. We eventually found the restaurant, had a good meal, and pushed on to Albuquerque. [Continue to Albuquerque...]