Mesa Verde National Park
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While we were in Monument Valley, we realized we were still a full day ahead on our schedule. So we started looking at other interesting places to visit in the general vicinity. It quickly dawned on us that we could get our money’s worth out of that National Park annual pass we bought in Zion AND visit a brand new state by driving over to Mesa Verde National Park.
On the road from Monument Valley to Mesa Verde, we also stopped at Four Corners Monument, the only point in the United States where the boundaries of four states intersect: Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. This spot is also on Navajo territory, so you have to pay a small fee to get to the actual marker. Nothing out of the ordinary here, but still quite impressive to stand in four different states at once.
Mesa Verde is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features numerous ruins of homes built by the Anasazi people around the 12th century. The most spectacular ruins are actually cliff dwellings where the Native American tribe has excavated part of a steep cliff and built small villages with basic masonry inside. Abandoned less than a hundred years after being built, those ruins remained hidden from modern civilisation until a gold prospector accidentally stumbled upon the site in 1873.
We first walked to a spot where we would have a good general view of Cliff Palace, the park’s most popular “village”. The setting is impressive, as all the houses seem to be hanging over a gorgeous valley of juniper trees. But we wanted to visit up close, so we paid for a small guided tour that brought us to Balcony House. A visit to Balcony House requires some physical work and that’s probably the main reason why we chose that one. Steep ladders and extremely narrow passages tend to discourage quite a few people!
We finally ended our visit with a short and easy (despite the heat!) 1-mile walk to Spruce Tree House where the well-preserved ruins include a kiva (a round room used for religious rituals and social functions) with a restored roof and many “appartments”.
By then it was time for us to head back to Arizona. We still had a few more places to visit…