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That title is just the start of a glowing review, right? Ehh, not really. But, I keep things real here and that means I’m here to tell you I didn’t love Mesa Verde. That’s not to say it’s not cool at all, I just enjoyed it less than other places. I will say though, there’s quite a bit to do here. Long House, Balcony House, and Cliff Palace all require tours, but there are some dwellings you can see on your own, like Spruce Tree House (if it’s open, check at the visitors center) or Step House.
I bet you want to know why. I guess I’ll get the bad out of the way before the good. Not that it’s really bad, just my opinion. Remember that. It’s all my opinion. First things first, it was so hard to take good pictures of anything because of the sun and horrible shadows. The sky was either blown out or the cliff dwellings were completely dark. As a photographer, that made the visit a bummer. So, really, it’s not that bad, just poor circumstances. On a positive not, the weather was pretty much perfect.
Next, it just wasn’t all that pretty. Again, I’m not saying it’s bad to look at, but I had just been to Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands. Those are all very easy on the eyes. But, that’s not really the focus of Mesa Verde. The focus is cliff dwellings and Anasazi culture. The canyons are crazy and I am still baffled at how they built some of these dwellings and got up to them, see the set of three pictures above. Insane. Then, they would have to walk miles to get water. Crazy.
Third, a lot of the mesa top sites are in buildings and have signs telling you to not go in them. It all makes sense. It’s to preserve them, but it feels weird looking at this cool in-ground house. In a metal building. It takes away a little bit of the charm I guess. That might not be the right word, but hopefully you get the idea. Again, I get it. It’s to keep them preserved so people can keep visiting and I’m all for that.
This one isn’t necessarily a bummer, but it is good to know. To go into Balcony House and Cliff Palace, you need to go with a tour. I knew this ahead of time, and it’s super cheap, but it’s also a annoying if you have limited time. Good news, the tours are super cheap and go throughout the day so it’s likely you can find one that works for you. Again, I get it. It’s to help preserve them. At least you are able to go into the ruins and not just look from afar, which is pretty cool.
The positive things though, it’s an awesome place to learn about the Anasazi culture, which is crazy. I mean, these people lived in cliffs and basically wore baskets for shoes that they would walk miles in for food and water. There are over 600 sites, so it’s a great place to actually experience a lot of the culture, especially as a stop on a Southwest US Road Trip. If you love sprawling views, that’s perfect because as you climb to the top of the mesa and along the whole top, you get great views over Cortez below. While it may be difficult to photograph, and not be the prettiest park around, it’s still worth a visit, especially if history is your thang.
Updatee 2020: Over the last two years I’ve come to love visiting ruin and rock art sites and think I would have a better appreciation for Mesa Verde if I went back again, which I would still like to do, especially in the winter.
Overall, I can’t say it’s really even close to my favorite park that I’ve visited, but I’m glad I went. I’ve wanted to go for a few years after seeing pictures of the dwellings and finally made it, so I would have gone eventually anyways. It just wasn’t my cup of tea, but there’s only one way to find out if it’s yours.
Tips for visiting Mesa Verde:
- If you want to tour Balcony House, Cliff Palace, or Long House you’ll have to get tickets at the visitors center. They’re about $5 each. You’ll probably need to get them the day before you want to go.
- The Chicken sandwich at the lounge by the Farview Lodge is delicious.
- It was super windy when we went in mid-May, so check weather if that will be a problem for you. Spring is really windy in this area.
- It can also get really hot. When we hiked to Step House it felt cool when we got out of the car, then we started hiking and it was SO HOT. Prepare for that.
- Bring all the water.
- The elevation is around 9000 feet, so keep that in mind as well when you go hiking.
Have you been to Mesa Verde? What did you think of it? Do you want to go? What did you do there?