Arizona Day 5 – Mesa Verde

This was the only day that didn’t have breakfast included so we needed to drive into town to find somewhere. My friend decided we weren’t heading out for breakfast until after 08:00 though so it was a slow morning getting ready so that we’d be at the Mesa Verde visitor centre just after 09:00. If we didn’t want a repeat of yesterday then we’d need to leave Mesa Verde by 16:00 MDT in order to get into Kayenta (back in Arizona) for a reasonable time.

For breakfast we drove into Cortez proper and drove down the Main Street. We had decided to eat at Beny’s Diner as it was the first we found on Google and was also recommended to us by the motel owner. I went with an egg dish that came with potato, two slices of bacon, two small sausages and 2 rounds of toast – but I asked for the egg dish without the egg. I also had an apple juice and a cup of tea, but the timing of them being delivered meant some of it had to be consumed cold.

Once we’d finished we made one short stop at Walmart before continuing on to the Mesa Verde visitor centre. When we got there we found the only guided tour we could do would be the Balcony House one which had a 32 foot ladder climb to do. My friend wasn’t too keen on the idea of this, but as guided tours are the only way of seeing the cave dwellings up close we didn’t really have a choice.

The guided tour cost $12 for the three of us, and once we’d driven up to the park entrance this was a further $10. Up until now my friend had been driving, but after doing the first part of the drive up onto the mesa my friend found the vertigo was too much so at the first viewpoint I took over the driving.

We stopped at a few more viewpoints that gave some good views, but there were also a number we didn’t bother with as they’d have given us similar views to what we’d already seen. When we reached a large crossroads we drove along another long loop, but decided we wouldn’t have time to get out of the car at the end so drove back to the main road and onwards in the direction of the museum stop.

By the time we got to the museum it was after midday so we stopped for some food – I had a turkey and cheese roll that came with a packet of barbecue crisps. Whilst there I saw another tarantula crawling along the wall, but didn’t have the right camera on me for photographing it properly.

When we left the museum stop we headed straight for the loop that included the Balcony House stop, but as we had a tour booked for 14:00 we missed out some of the stops. We did however get in one stop where we could look down onto one of the cave dwellings but we couldn’t get that close.

At the Balcony House stop we stood around waiting for the guide, and found that when he arrived he talked a lot – but was in fact a good guide. He started off by describing the route we’d be taking and then after giving a safety briefing took our tickets and led us down to the start of the actual tour. He stopped quite a few times to talk about various things which meant by the time we got to the 32 foot ladder climb at the start it was already 14:30.

My sister had hoped to look around these dwellings, but despite my best efforts to help her climb them she had to get back down and walk back to the start to wait for me. I was already passed the “point of no return” so wasn’t able to go back to join her. The guide though shook my hand for my attempt at talking her up the ladder. My friend however, despite his vertigo, was able push on and climb up.

The proper tour started with the guide talking about the courtyard we were in, and then moved onto a middle section with two large pits, and then finally onto another area where there were three rooms. This was a pretty big group which made taking photographs very difficult, but by holding back I was able to take some photographs as people moved on.

This UNESCO World Heritage site was inhabited by Paleo-Indians as long ago as approximately 7500 BCE. The cliff dwellings we were now there to see weren’t built until the 12th Century however. This culture abandoned the site a few generations after it’s completion due to droughts in the area. The Navajo considered these peoples to be enemies and referred to them as Anasazi, but the correct name for them are the Puebloans. Centuries later the Ute mountain people believed these dwellings to be the sacred homes of their ancestors, though they still weren’t “discovered” by Western explorers until the late 1800s after which they eventually became protected as a national park.

At the end of the tour we had to crawl on hands and knees through a tight crawl space into a sort of room, which we could then walk forward a couple of steps in, and then had to crawl on hands and knees out the other side. This was then followed by another short ladder climb, and then a precarious walk up the side of a cliff face to another ladder that took us back up to the level of the road.

We met back up with my sister who was disappointed with herself for not having been able to make it around, but she was in good spirits. The tour had overrun by about 30 minutes which meant we were now behind schedule and still had a little over an hour of driving to get out the park. We did slow down briefly though to photograph a stag that was grazing near a T-junction.

Once off the cliffs my friend took over the driving again once we reached the visitor centre and from there drove us back through Cortez and onwards to the Four Corners Monument. This drive took about 75 minutes but we got there just before they were due to close. Instead of the entrance fee being per vehicle it was $5 per person.

Inside they have a sign up saying “Limit of 3 photos per person”. I assume that’s to stop people hogging the point where the four states meet so that others can have their photos taken too, though regardless I still took as many photographs as I wanted as it seems wrong to not inform people of a limit until after they’ve paid. We each had our photo taken where we were standing in all 4 states. There wasn’t really much to see there though so we were soon on our way again.

The road from there was long and straight – you could see it reaching for miles in front of us with nothing in sight. To be on the safe side, when we passed a gas station we filled up again – at least it’d mean we could do Monument Valley on the following day without needing to fill up first.

As we arrived in Kayenta the sun had just finished setting. This was the first time we had to join a long queue for checking in as it appears a large tour group had arrived just ahead of us. We did find out however that as Kayenta is so close to the border that it observes daylight savings time, so we were still on the same time as when we’d been in Colorado and New Mexico. Both of the keycards for one of the rooms were faulty, the first time we’d encountered it on this trip, so I had to get that sorted before we could go for food.

As it had been 8 hours since we’d had lunch we decided we’d eat in the hotel’s restaurant instead of going out to find somewhere else. I had a New York steak with carrots, broccoli, mashed potato, and a bread roll. It was quite a sizeable steak and the food was actually some of the best we’d had on this trip. Though considering some of the places we’ve had to resort to, it’s hardly surprising.

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