Celebrating 100 years of Our National Parks at Mesa Verde

Spruce Tree House Cliff Dwelling at Mesa Verde

Spruce Tree House Cliff Dwelling at Mesa Verde

Me Overlooking Spruce Tree House

Me Overlooking Spruce Tree House

Touring Mesa Verde National Park

Touring Mesa Verde National Park

You’ve probably heard that 2016 marks the one-hundred-year anniversary of the National Park Service. Often referred to as America’s Best Idea, there are more than four hundred parks within our beautiful country and I think fall is one of the best times to visit them. In celebration of this milestone, there’s one more entrance-free day left and I find it appropriate that this one takes place on Veteran’s Day, November 11.

To me, it feels like I’m living within a national park in my home of Telluride, Colorado. I believe that Ken Burns, renowned filmmaker of America’s National Park series and many other inspiring documentaries, feels similarly. Perhaps this is why he spends so much time in our little box canyon mountain town. I did an interview with him a while back on our national parks that is still very pertinent today. Do check it out here.

Even so, I love venturing out and exploring the real deal. Fortunately, we have a couple national parks in Colorado within about an hour-and-a-half drive of Telluride: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Mesa Verde National Park. (The latter is also a World Heritage Site.) I visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with my parents six years ago toward the end of a big southwest tour that also showcased Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. Click here to read Touring the Southwest with My Parents, which features those two world-renowned destinations. At the end of that trip, I also visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with them and I highlight this amazing national park in Part Four of a series of stories I did about rafting in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. After you read about this little-known national park, check out Rafting and Roughing it on the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Part One, Part Two and Part Three–it was a big outdoor adventure that I hope to do again some day. You just might want to plan a similar trip there yourself.

Speaking of world famous sites, it always strikes me that at America’s National Parks I see an overwhelming number of foreigners. Sometimes I think they value what we have more than most of us. Possibly. In any event, I hope this story and the photos herein will prompt you to break out and savor what we are so blessed to behold within our nation’s borders. I also think it might be a great way to blow out some election overload!

A Tapestry of Textures at Mesa Verde in Fall

A Tapestry of Textures at Mesa Verde in Fall

My Mesa Verde
If you read my story Forging Forward with Fabulousness, you may have gathered that I have been back east with my mother the majority of the time since my father passed away in March. I did, however, recently go back to Telluride for a couple of weeks during which time I filled up my senses as much as possible with the wonder of the great American West. My boyfriend, Steve, and I wanted to go camping, since we had not yet gone together this year. (And, of course, the snow is already starting to pile up in the Rockies.)

We pondered the usual nearby destinations in Moab where there also happens to be some amazing national parks as well as warmer temperatures than Telluride. But I sensed that something else was calling us. “How about Mesa Verde?” I asked him.

Mesa Verde Morning Landscape

Mesa Verde Morning Landscape

“Wow, yeah, I haven’t been there since I went on the cross country trip with my parents when I was a kid,” Steve replied.

“It’s amazing we haven’t been there together,” I added. “It’s practically just down the street from us.”

So the plan was laid out with a heavy emphasis on advanced meal preparation, which was to be my responsibility. We became increasingly excited about our upcoming adventure as much as if we were planning to jet off to Paris and stay in a luxury hotel. (I’ve done that far more than camping.) Thankfully Steve is an expert camper and I keep up with him in terms of the organization of stuff. And there’s so much stuff when it comes to camping. Don’t ever be fooled–camping is a lot of work. So we prepared ourselves for a late-season expedition where brisk nights and maybe even a rainy day were to be part of the scene. Aside from that, the forecast promised at least a couple of days of autumn warmth and sun.

Good morning Mesa Verde

Good morning Mesa Verde

Our Camp at Mesa Verde

Our Camp at Mesa Verde

Sunset View of Our Camp

Sunset View of Our Camp

It was extraordinary, especially since fall ranks as a superlative time of year to visit this gem in our national park system. Whether at our campsite or driving around the 52,485 acres of the park, we were enchanted by the multifarious layers of hues and textures on display within this rugged swath of southwest Colorado.

Ready Ranger

Ready
Ranger

Visiting Step House

Visiting Step House

Created in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, Mesa Verde National Park protects some of the best preserved Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites within the United States. Cliff Dwellings, dating back to the twelfth century, make this national park especially unique. Although we checked out a couple, Steve and I were particularly enthralled with the humbling scenery within the park as well as our camping experience overall.

Fall at Mesa Verde

Fall at Mesa Verde

Autumnal Splendor at Mesa Verde

Autumnal Splendor at Mesa Verde

The Road Less Traveled at Mesa Verde

The Road Less Traveled at Mesa Verde

Contemplating Nature

Contemplating Nature

The very best part of our getaway though was doing what the ancients did hundreds of years ago: gazing up into the night’s sky and staring into the campfire for hours on end. I think it’s good to do that for a couple of nights at least once a year and camping is the best way to assure that that happens.

Our Campfire

Our Campfire

The campfires within America’s National Parks are surely some of the best in the world.

Know that if you’re not up to camping, there are many lodging options within Mesa Verde Country. Blue Lake Ranch is a wonderful bed and breakfast I experienced that I highly recommend. It’s closer to Durango but worth the extra drive, especially if you only plan to spend one day at Mesa Verde.

Luminaria Magic

Luminaria Magic

Luminaria Open House

The words simply magical can only begin to describe the effect of illuminating one of MV’s cliff dwellings with luminarias. It’s so special that an annual event has been created where you can also enjoy entertainment and refreshments on this special occasion. This year the Mesa Verde National Park Luminaria Open House takes place Thursday, December 8 and rumor has it that Spruce Tree House will be featured. Sounds magical to me.

 
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