After Moab, we drove a few hours to Cortex, Colorado for a visit to Mesa Verde National Park.
Have you heard of Mesa Verde? This is a stop that our oldest son discovered in a book while researching where to visit and we are so glad we made it part of the itinerary.
Mesa Verde is in Montezuma County and is an archeologic site filled with Ancestral Puebloan homes from around 1200 AD.
We began our time at the park at the visitors center to watch a 20 minute film giving us the background of this area and what we were about to explore.
Next, we took advantage of the Junior Ranger Program that each National Park offers and the kids filled out their workbooks.
This was our first time completing the Junior Ranger activities and was a great way for the kids to feel engaged with the history and culture of the Ancestral Puebloan people.
Once the kids finished their workbooks, we presented them to the Ranger and she talked through a bunch of the answers before giving them Junior Ranger badges and leading them through a pledge.
A quick note about the National Park Rangers: we have been so impressed. Each of the Rangers we have met have been so kind, knowledgable about the Park they work in and passionate about the work they do. They truly make the National Park experience so much richer.
Just outside the visitor center is the first example of an Ancestral Puebloan home called a cliff dwelling.
They literally built homes in the cleft of the cliff using handmade sandstone bricks.
Here’s a pulled back shot so you can see the scale:
The cliffs go straight down and are topped with a mesa. Those who lived in the houses climbed up and down from the mesa top into the cliff houses using carved out footholds in the stone to hunt, farm, trade. Archeologists are not completely sure what led the Ancestral Puebloans to move their homes from the traditional Pit Houses to Cliff Dwellings, but most believe it was for protection from the elements (shade from the hot desert sun and tucked away from winter snowfall) and possibly for security from neighboring tribes.
To get a better look, we booked a $3 per person tour with a park ranger to visit The Balcony House.
There are three available cliff dwelling tours and we chose the most adventurous tour – with a 35 foot ladder to climb and a 12 foot tunnel to crawl through – because kids like adventure, right?!
We lined up for our tour with a group of about 50 and met our guide, Ranger Paul, who was like a walking history book. He was engaging, a fabulous speaker and shared so many details about the Ancestral Puebloans. What they ate. How they lived. Why they mysteriously left the houses around 1270.
The kids were all very interested and each one took the opportunity to ask Ranger Paul questions. “How did they brush their teeth?” was the most notable one :)
To get up in The Balcony House, you climb a tall, 32 foot ladder. Up a cliff. Without nets to catch you. It’s a bit thrilling and really not as difficult or scary as it sounds; Audrey girl made it up and was quite proud.
Once up the ladder, you stand right there in the middle of the home, built over 700 years ago. It’s the craziest thing! You can touch the stones, peek into the rooms, climb the stairs. We were so amazed that they let groups walk through these ancient sites!
Lest you think we were alone, here is what our group really looked like:
We just hung back at the end of the group so we could snap photos once all the people cleared out.
The Balcony House likely housed 15-30 people (probably two families) along with their pet turkeys (there are turkey footprints in the stone!).
At some point after the house was complete, a stone tunnel was added at the exit, perhaps as a means of extra security. It is about 12 feet long and 18 inches wide. You crawl through on your hands and knees and hope you squeeze through.
We left the tour and our whole Mesa Verde park experience with such a deep appreciation and fascination with these ingenious Ancestral Puebloan people. Their innovation, resourcefulness and tradition is incredibly inspiring and so worthy to remember and honor.
Of all the National Parks we’ve visited so far, I think this was my favorite. I just loved the history.
Should you find yourself in the Four Corners region, we highly recommend a day stop in Mesa Verde.
I love seeing your posts about your trip. What you’re doing for your kids, let alone yourselves, is such an incredible gift. Your photos are wonderful. I want to go back to see posts I missed as they must all be exceptional, it’s almost as good as being along.
Since my hubs was truck driver we got to see much of our country and nice bit of Canada, feel vey lucky. My Dad was also a traveler in very simple ways, so glad he was as I have such great memories from traveling with him and hubs. Our moves expo across country exposed us to lot of our country.
To me this gives a person an education which cannot be replaced in our lives. The memories are life long. I commend you and your husband, parents of year award. Happy weekend
Awesome! This reminds me of a book from childhood on the indigenous Pueblo Indians. Fascinating. Looks like a great time!
My husband just surprised me last weekend with a trip to Mesa Verde for my birthday! I live in Colorado and try to take advantage of all the amazing places this state offers, but had never seen Mesa Verde before. We did Balconey House too and I loved it! Thank you for sharing your travels and adventures. We have a beautiful country!
Emily, thank you so much for sharing your family’s road trip with all of your readers. It really is inspirational and your pictures really show the value of spending that kind of time with your family. I’m not sure if we will ever be able to embark on a months-long trip but I would really love to travel with my kids more and your trip just feeds that desire even more in the best way. Thank you so much! and I hope you all continue to have such a great time.
Thank you so much for documenting all of this. It is educational for all of those who haven’t had a chance to explore our National Park’s System. Mesa Verde is truly an enchanting place–I visited twice or three times as a child. If you get a chance, participate in one of the night movies/ranger-led fireside chats at a National Park. They are very educational and you often learn more in-depth than you would otherwise.
Love your travels! We live in Colorado and love Rocky Mt. Natl Park and just came back from Bryce and Zion and have been to many of your other Parks!! Way to go! Your kids are delightful in all they are taking in!!!
In April my husband and I took a two week road trip from San Diego to Chicago for our daughter’s college graduation by way of Nashville, Smokey Mountains, Kentucky and home through Estes Park, Colorado. We did miles of hiking through several National Parks along the way – we were so impressed with the staff at all of the National Parks. They were so friendly and willing to share their knowledge and “little known secrets”. We have a new appreciation for our National Park system!
It breaks my heart when you say, “Mesa Verde. Have you heard of it?” Yikes. I hope most adult Americans know the major National Parks. Please folks, go visit and see your country. We are so blessed. You will be amazed at all the tourists from Europe, Asia, etc. Someone once told me a picture of Bryce Canyon is in every travel office in Germany, and with their long summer vacations, most Germans intend to get there! You will meet many of them at the Visitor Centers, hotels and on the trails. “Use it or lose it” is how I feel about our National Parks, if we don’t encourage young people to visit and love the Parks. Emily, I think your road trip is proving how we can get our kids to love the parks too, and support them in the future.
We have absolutely discovered that we have taken for grated the beauty that is in our own country!
I lived 1 mile from the exit to Mesa Verde in elementary school. I have been there many times. We lived on several acres and could easily go on a walk and find pottery pieces and arrowheads. It’s a beautiful and amazing place. I love the history. Thanks for sharing your travels. I love hearing about it.
Great pictures. I have never been there, but have known about it. These are memories your children will always remember. My family took a road trip to Arizona over 40 years ago and we road donkeys down into the Grand Canyon. I still remember like it was yesterday.
Thank you for sharing.. I would love to go there someday. We saw homes in the mountains in Sedona.. but they did not let us go in them :( That is a great find.
I can’t recall whether you’ve passed through NM or not (or if you intend to) – but if you enjoyed Mesa Verde (which I’ve not been to), you would probably also like Bandelier Nat’l Monument:
Happy Trails (it’s a typical June day in Seattle…part cloudy, part sunny…Lake Union looks gray at the moment)!
Lovely photos. I’m enjoying a great deal to follow your aventures. If I ever go to America one day, I’ll be following your footsteps. Have a safe journey. Greetings from Switzerland.
We’re in Tallahassee – no bloggers ever come near us, so you on the gulf coast is exciting! Let me know if you need to stop and do some laundry.
Ah, thank you! We’ll be driving through your city tomorrow and thankfully, the laundry is done!
Thank you for sharing your journey. I definitely want to visit Mesa National Park some day. And I agree about about the park rangers. We were recently in Gettysburg and I was so impressed with our Ranger. Wonderful work those folks do for our country.
My family and I will be going on a week long trip to visit different state parks for hiking, fishing, camping etc… and I wondered if you guys wear tennis shoes for all the hiking you’ve been doing or did you invest in hiking shoes? If tennis shoes will do the trick, then I don’t want to spend the extra money. Also, can you tell me the type of backpack you use to hold water and snacks along the way?
We have just worn tennis shoes. The longest hike we did was 6 miles at once; we’ve had a few days with up to 8 miles of hiking. Our hikes are not intense (we’re dragging along our 6 year old!) and so the shoes we brought have been just fine.
As for backpacks, Ryan carries a regular backpack and one of the boys carries another with an aluminum water bottle for each of the kids, granola bars, packs of nuts, fruit leather. We packed lunches on a few hikes – pb+j, meat + cheese sandwiches, sliced apples, carrots, crackers. Certainly nothing fancy but it works for stuffing in a backpack!
Have a great trip!
We live near Bandelier National Monument in New
Mexico, and it is similar to what Mesa Verde sounds like. My kids love the junior ranger program, and I couldn’t agree more about all the park rangers we have met! So helpful, engaging, and kind! We were at Carlsbad Caverns a couple weeks ago, and the ranger that led them through their pledge there included lots of fun extras like pledging to eat their veggies first. :) thanks for sharing all your fun trip details! Maybe someday our family can do something similar. But at least we can enjoy it vicariously through your blog for now. :)
Such a wonderful place to visit. I remember my visit there in the 70’s. I was in high school and our youth group taught a VBS to the Navajo Indians in Farmington, NM. Mesa Verde was a day trip/excursion I will always remember. Thanks for the great pictures!
I have always wanted to visit Mesa Verde. It was great to get to do it vicariously with your family. It’s quite amazing that they allow people to climb around in the ruins. Safe travels!
Celia @ http://www.AfterOrangeCounty.com
Still enjoying your comments about your trip and all the pictures. Mesa Verde is just amazing.
We went there on our epic RV adventure. Fascinating. Loved it and our National Parks. Hope you are loving this journey!
It has been fun to see your family hit all of my favorite spots in Utah and southeast CO! One cool thing we have been doing, is collecting stamps in our “passport” of National Parks. I actually have one that I started as a kid 30 years ago, and now my husband and 2 year-old son have them too. It’s so fun to look back at the dated stamp on when you visited these special places. The stamp, available at all of the visitors centers, is also a nice free thing to acquire instead of gift shop purchases!
It is so fun watching your travels! I have never done Instagram but did so I could see your posts and then I can’t wait to read your blog with the details! I noticed you are on 30A now…..we vacationed there the first week of May and it was wonderful! Safe travels…
I am new to your blog (recommended from Modern Mrs. Darcy, I believe) & I am loving it! It’s my dream to do a trip like this with my family & I am so grateful to get to follow yours around. Thank you for taking the time to write & share. It’s so fun & inspiring!
A fellow road trip loving Emily :)
I remember studying Mesa Verde in either elementary or middle school, and it’s on my bucket list to visit. I love just imagining the homes hustling and bustling in such a different way of life.
I visite Mesa Verde and Four Corners when I was around 9 years old. I remember it SO vividly – I can still feel my knees wobbling climbing on those ancient foot and hand holds. You are providing such a rich experience for your kids and I look forward to doing the same when mine get a little older. Safe travels!