When we went to the Anasazi Heritage Center, I picked up a Visitor Guide for Mesa Verde National Park. Obviously one of the things we wanted to do there was tour a cliff dwelling. The guide showed dates and times for the three cliff dwellings that have tours:
- Cliff Palace (Largest Cliff Dwelling) – Closed for season September 26
- Long House (Most In-Depth Tour) – Closed for season October 16
- Balcony House (Most Adventurous Cliff Dwelling Tour) – Closed for season October 30
Obviously whatever else I’d had planned for the next day got postponed! To make sure we got tickets, we even drove down to the Colorado Welcome Center in Cortez to buy tickets for the next day’s noon tour. The lady there told us it was a two hour drive from Cortez to Balcony House, allowing for stops along the way at some of the viewpoints. (It didn’t.)
Mesa Verde’s elevation varies from 7,000 to over 8,500 feet at the Park Point Viewpoint. Cortez is a little over 6,000 feet, so we had a bit of a climb just to get to the top of the mesa.
We stopped at the Visitor Center for passport stamps, but didn’t linger. (We should have. We definitely had time to kill before our tour.)
Skipping the viewpoints on the main road, we arrived at Balcony House way too early. We decided to go back around Cliff Palace Loop Drive to stop at the viewpoints we’d driven past to get to where the tour starts. First up was an overlook for Cliff Palace. This is the iconic cliff dwelling everyone wants to see. (It was closed.) They figure most of the cliff dwellings and some of the mesa top villages were built about 1,200 AD. Tucked into a huge alcove not far below the mesa top, it’s an impressive address.
Those round holes aren’t swimming pools—they’re kivas. Apparently kivas had a lot of uses, and for a cliff dwelling that had 100 people living in it, they needed several.
If you use your imagination and finish up the buildings, add some people and think modern-day planned community, you’ve probably got it pretty close. Took a lot of thought and planning to develop something like this.
After taking umpteen pictures of Cliff Palace, we got back in the truck and stopped at the House of Many Windows viewpoint, also in Cliff Canyon. Those windows aren’t windows, but doorways. Some of the walls are gone, but there used to be 11 rooms in this dwelling. (Click on the picture to enlarge it.)
Next up was a viewpoint of Hemenway House, which is on the other side of the loop and across Soda Canyon. This first picture is what we saw first. I have no idea where the dwelling is. The information sign is weathered and almost impossible to identify anything from the picture there. So I stood in front of the sign, aimed my camera at the cliff, and hit the zoom. I still have can't find the house, or even know if I’m in the right section of rock. Kind of nice rock though. (In this case, I don't think enlarging the picture will help much.)
First we had to go downstairs.
Some of the trail has railing, a good thing to have handy when you're walking along a cliff.
We climbed up the 32 foot ladder.
And then we were in Balcony House!
Not all the walls are high enough to stand under.
From inside looking out.
There’s a wall, sort of.
The ranger who led our tour told us this was his last tour—last tour on the last day of the season, and he was transferring to another national park in California. He had a archeology background so we was full of fascinating information that really let us understand how the Ancient Puebloans lived.
To leave, we had to stand in line because you can only go through the tunnel one person at a time. George handed me the backpack and I went through a doorway like the one George is coming out of. After that, there’s a space of a few feet, then you crawl across a big flat rock, another space, and then the door. The ranger explained that the current exit was the entrance for the people who lived here. Cuts down on attacks from enemies that way.
After getting out and catching our (his) breath, we had to stand in line again to go through this slit in the rock.
(which actually looked more difficult when I looked back at George)
...then one more ladder to get to the mesa top.
Deep breath, then back in the truck and the Mesa Top Loop Drive to see the pit houses and villages. These were built about 600 AD, about 600 years earlier than the houses below the rim. No one knows why they changed the way they lived. Made of sticks and timbers and covered with adobe, the remaining foundations are now protected by a building.
Next up was a pithouse village. The homes here were made of stone rather than wood and were clustered together, probably built a couple of hundred years later.
Oak Tree House is nearby. Emphasis is on the Oak Tree, rather than the Tree House, but I wasn't looking for trees.
Fire Temple and New Fire House are neighbors too.
Once we drove around to Sun Temple, we could only walk around the outside. It’s shaped like a D. Weird to see a whole building that’s not down on a ledge.
Then back in the truck and stop again—this time at Cliff Palace View Camera Point, which sounded promising. However, the sun was shining directly on the Cliff Palace now, so the details weren’t as clear as they were in the morning when it was in shade.
We stopped at the overlooks we’d overlooked on the way in...you can see those and other pictures here: Mesa Verde Natl Park