Friday, May 6, 2011

They say a picture is worth a thousand words....

If that is true, we'll need 1000 pics to convey some of the things we've seen on this trip so far.  I knew the trip was going to be awesome.  I knew it could even be life changing in that it could change my perspective on some things, but I just was not prepared for the sheer size, vastness and utter beauty of some of the things we've seen so far.

We woke up in Durango, made breakfast, checked out of the hotel and we were pulling out of the parking lot headed to Mesa Verde when I saw this older couple in an old beat-up car with the hood-up.  I rolled down the window and asked if they needed a jump.  They did, so I got my jumper cables out, gave them a jump.  They thanked us and were on their way.  I think it's best to never pass up an opportunity to get some easy karma points. :-) I packed up the jumper cables and we we headed for Mesa Verde, about 40 miles away.  It was an easy drive with some beautiful scenery along the way.

Our initial plan was to spend 1/2 a day in Mesa Verde and then head back through Durango up to Ouray.  For those of you reading this who have been to Mesa Verde, you can stop laughing now.  I was beyond naive to think we could spend just 1/2 a day in MV.    When we pulled up to the park entrance they asked us if we had plenty of gas because the cliff dwellings themselves were 23 miles past the front entrance.  We did have plenty so we went ahead in.  The 15 mile drive to the main visitors center was nothing short of awe inspiring.  Even if there were no cliff dwellings this drive would have been worth the price of admission.  Once at the main visitors center we decided to take the tour of the largest cliff dwelling, Cliff Palace.  We bought our tickets then drove another 8 miles to the site where we got together with our tour group.  It seemed funny to me, but of the 30 or so people in our group, at least 1/2 were not from the USA.  The largest foreign contingent was from Germany (UK, France, Australia and Canada also were represented).  MV must be very popular with German tourists because the brochures were in three different languages, English, Spanish and German.  We even met some Germans who had their camper van shipped over from Germany and were traveling all over North and South America with it.  I envy them.

The hike down to Cliff Palace was not too bad, but there were some VERY narrow spots, especially carrying a baby on my back.  Once we got down there, the park guide spoke for about 40 minutes, when 20 minutes would have done nicely.  I was lucky to miss about 20 minutes of it when Aldous got fussy which required me to go off around a corner ledge so every one else could here her drone on.  :-)  We then had about 10 minutes to explore the area, most of which was spent standing in line to see a painting that had been left by the Anasazi inside one of their towers about 800 years ago.  It was only visible by sticking your head in a 2x2 window and looking about 10 feet up and to your right.

After this we decided to spend the night in the park.  It was too early in the season for camping, but there is a hotel on site.  It was a bit more than what we hoped to spend, but given the view and the fact that the next nearest hotel is about 35 miles away and we wanted to explore MV some more the next day, we decided to stay there.  We also ate at their very good restaurant, which was not unreasonably priced.   Before checking in at the hotel we decided to do the self-tour of the Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling and this was by far the best experience we had at any of the Anasazi ruins.  You went at your own pace, there were rangers there to answer questions, but only if you had any.  :-)   After viewing STH, we watched a short video in the onsite museum about the history of the cliff dwellings.  This was very informative and highly recommended.

We then checked into our hotel room, went to dinner, and then back to the hotel room and turned in for the night.  The room had no wifi, and no TV...which is what we needed.  I fell asleep at 9:30, usually I'm up till past midnight typing these blogs (it's 3:07am now as I post this).  The next day, we did a short hike to see the Soda Canyon overlook, in which you can view the Balcony House cliff dwelling on the other side of the canyon (we opted to not take the guided tour to the cliff dwelling itself).  It was about 1.5 miles, but the sun was bright and it was hot.  Let's just say I'm glad it wasn't 1.6 miles.  :-)   We then decided to have a picnic on one of the overlooks on the way out of the park and head for Ouray.  One last thing, in two days we didn't see 1/2 of what there is to see at MV.  Of course we had little kids in tow, but still, you could easily spend 4-5 days here or a casual week even without towing kids around.  If you make the trip to see MV, give yourself a minimum of 2 full days to see it...and start early every day.

Now, let me begin this by telling you that when my uncle Bill asked where we wanted to go after leaving ABQ.  All we knew is that we wanted to go to Mesa Verde, then Moab, then on to the Grand Canyon.  He said that given that list, after visiting MV, we needed to take the road from Durango through to Ouray.  He said it was so spectacular, that if our trip ended after that road, we'd be satisfied.   I think he was actually downplaying how spectacular the drive actually is!   Snow covered peaks 12K feet high, passes that were 11K feet high, rushing rivers, winding roads with no guard rails that plunged 100s upon 100s of feet, snow melt waterfalls cascading down the cliff faces, avalanche signs on every other corner, some for snow, some for rocks.  It was just simply incredible, there is no other way to describe it.  I have no issue at all with heights, but some of these roads without guardrails were just insane and even made me feel a little nervous.  It wasn't so much the height as it was the fact that I would find myself in awe of the surroundings, looking up and then realizing, um hey, you are piloting a heavily loaded Flower Power Swagger Wagon with your wife and kids on-board, you might want to keep your eyes on the road! 

We made it to Ouray and then debated on whether to stay at the more expensive hotel with onsite hot spring hot tubs terraced behind the rooms up the mountain, or stay at the hotel slightly outside of town for about 1/2 the cost...but still an amazing view.  We went with option 2.  We did not have time to get pics of the views from our hotel though because we decided to unpack quickly and run over to the Hot Springs Pool right in the middle of the town that was open till 9PM (it's off-season).  It was awesome!  They have several large pools that range in temperature from 84-105 degrees.   This is one of the coolest little towns I've ever seen.  We plan on exploring it some tomorrow and will post some pics.  Meanwhile, it's very late and we've had a long past 2 days so I'm going to let the pictures do the rest of the talking.  We've taken about 200 pics in the last 2 days so, I've tried to pick out some of the better ones.  Sorry they are not in order, but blogspot is giving me fits trying to arrange them and I'm too tired to fix them now.  :-)

PS.  Quick short cute Bella story of the day.  The Mesa Verde visitors center has one of those machines where you put in 2 quarters and a penny, then you turn this handle 5 times and it crushes your penny flat and puts a new picture on it (in this case a deer).  Bella asked for some money for this on our first day in MV but I didn't have any change. The next day I bought something and there was about  $.86 in change which I handed to Bella and told her if was for the penny crusher later.  She looked at the money, counted it, got a big smile on her face and said excitedly, "Daddy, I only need  $ .51, this is $.86 cents so that means I have some extra money that I can donate to help someone!"    We must be doing something right....  :-)

This is the canyon Cliff Palace is can see the end of the palace in the far left of the picture.

I was at the tail end of the tour so I could get people in the pics to give it scale.

Michelle took this pic of Bella, Aldous and I waiting to see the painting.

Climbing out of the canyon after visiting Cliff Palace.

It was pretty steep, and carrying a baby up was not that easy, but it was worth it.

This is the hotel we stayed in at Mesa Verde, and those are wild horses you see all over the park.

Our picnic leaving Mesa Verde.....what a view!

Silverton, CO, between Durango and Ouray....interesting little town.

Bella and I having a snowball fight at one of the 11K foot passes.

The highest peak we saw.

View from the road leaving Mesa Verde.

Snow capped peaks.....duh. :-)

In front of Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling.

This is a kiva (  It's a room used by the Anasazi that is dug into the ground and would normally have a roof on it.

Here is Bella and I climbing down into a kiva that has had it's roof restored.

Bella sitting in the kiva.

Bella, Michelle and Aldous outside Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling.

Aldous and I had just tasted snow at one of the, it wasn't yellow snow...just cold as hell. :-)

Two cliff face waterfalls right outside Ouray.

A view of Cliff Palace from an observation deck.

One of the MANY canyons in Mesa Verde.

800+ year-old painting in Cliff Palace tower.

Bella made a new friend at Mesa Verde...the little lizard on the left of the rock...he was smiling too...really.

The Flower Power Swagger Wagon  (nearly) on top of the world.

Guard rails?  We don't need no stinkin guardrails!  This one is actually very minor compared to others...they were too nerve racking to try and get a picture of them.

Like the sign says, Ouray city limits...

Michelle and Aldie at one of the 11K foot passes.


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  2. Wonderful entry!! You describe Mesa Verde and the Million Dollar Highway to Ouray perfectly. I'm so, so glad you went to Ouray, too--isn't it wonderful? We took Kate and Jim there nearly every summer of their childhood...but we never went in early May--too much snow! Weren't the hot springs great? They don't call it "The Little Switzerland of the West" for nothing. We miss you--keep writing!

  3. Great pics! And I finally get to see the Scooby-Doo van :-)

  4. Man, what a great trip so far! And only a couple weeks in!

  5. Send me an address of where you guys decide to live so I can come visit. :} Imagine that drive out of Ouray in the snow!

  6. The pictures are beautiful. It sounds (and looks) as if you guys are having a wonderful time. I am so glad that you decided to Yield to Temptation and allow us to tag along. I will definitely check out Ouray the next time I am in that part of the U.S. The pictures are priceless, especially the snow tasting shot...I am still laughing! Sunny.