After a restocking of our ice chest in Gallup, we began the drive through the grasslands and monuments of northern New Mexico. While not as dramatic Monument Valley just west, the formations are similarly sheer and steep. Shiprock peak was the pinnacle of these, rising 1700 feet from the flatlands. A small detour and we arrived at Four Corners monument, the location were the borders of four states (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah) meet. More touristy than anything, with it our current loop bearing its name, we thought it was worth the detour.
After getting back on the main highway, we made our way to Cortez, CO. Here, we stopped at the town’s visitor center where we bought tour tickets for the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. With the visitor center in the park as the only other place where tickets can be purchased, we thought the Cortez stop would let us pick our times before they sold out. We got tours for Balcony House and Cliff Palace for te next day.
After driving the windy road into the park, we stopped at 8000 feet elevation to check in at Far View Lodge. We then decided to check out the museum and short walk to the Spruce Tree House dwelling near the museum. A drive back near sunset, we saw deer, many with their antlers coming in.
We got an early start on day 2 in Mesa Verde with a guided tour of Balcony House. The ascent of a 30 foot ladder led into the 2 kiva dwelling. Much of the site was original, and we could see where the water spring came in and how remodeling 800 years ago showed the expansion of the complex. Before the next guided tour, we did the easy Soda Canyon Overlook trail to see Balcony House from a distance. A light rainstorm started to move in. We we arrived to Cliff Palace, we saw why it was not only the largest, but most popular site. Unlike Balcony House, we were not able to see much of Cliff Palace other than the front facade. A larger thunder storm moved in and we had to cut the tour short.
After a few hours of strong rain and lightning, the sky cleared and we decided to try the strenuous 2.8 mile Petroglyphs hike. Twisting along the mesa ledge and through sandstone boulders, we saw smaller buildings and amazing petroglyphs. The hike was well worth the adventure and views.
Though we recommend the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad our the loop page, we decided to do the alternative of two days in Mesa Verde. As such, we are going to do the drive from Durango to Silverton through the San Juan mountains to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park tomorrow.