15.08.2016 - 15.08.2016
Monday 15 August
Camp was all packed up by 7.30 this morning and all back in the delightful van, we've got about a five hour journey up to Mesa Verde today, it does feel very much that all we do is set up camp, sleep, pack up camp and sit on the darned bus. As we were driving out of Santa Fe we saw a couple of prairie dogs just sitting at the side of the road, they look a bit like meerkats but smaller, fatter and cuter. After about an hour we call off at a Walmart - I've been asked to be designated booze buyer - most of the group aren't 21 so it's illegal for them to buy their own booze so cos I'm an old fogey, they've asked me nicely to do the buying. Walmart doesn't have wine or spirits (eh??) so a load of Bud and Smirnoff ice and a few bottles of Colorado blonde beer it is. I was a bit miffed that I didn't get asked for ID! :-(
The Walmart is in a small town called Pagosa Springs - oh my word, I wish we were staying over here, it's really pretty and there were signs all over advertising rafting, kayaking, skiing - the Walmart even sold kayaks for $280 -and there are all sorts of little arty, crafty shops - this is so my sort of place. It's written down as one of then places I will definitely be visiting on my next road trip across America.
We crossed the border from New Mexico into Colorado and the scenery changed very quickly from being very flat to the Colorado mountains rising up in front of us. It's very colourful, the mountains are shades of yellow, grey and white and in the distance look blue. The flat land also is very green, it's beautiful.
We get to our camp and set up at about 3pm, this campsite is gorgeous, it's not a posh one, it's quite rustic but sits just outside Mesa Verde national park so there are amazing views of the mountains. Our little pitch has it's own little fire pit and the campsite had got a cute little patio area to sit on and admire the views, a swimming pool,a hot tub and a mini golf putting green. The planned activity for this afternoon is to go into the national park and see some of the cliff dwellings that Mesa Verde is famous for (as well as being a beautiful national park just for the scenery). The others apart from me and Lisanne decide they want to stay on the campsite and hang about by the pool but they daren't ask Kelsey so I ask for them and she is fine with just us three going. The visitor centre and ticket office is just across the road from the campsite but it turns out that Balcony house, where we're headed to is a further 40 minutes drive up into the mountains.
The cliff dwellings date back to 1150-1300ad and were built by puebloians - the ancient native people. The homes were built high up in naturally formed gaps in the cliffs, the puebloians either got to their homes by climbing up sand down the rocks - rock climbing style or by using home made wooden ladders - either way not particularly easy. Our guide Jim was very interesting- you could tell he absolutely loved his job and everything about the Mesa Verde and the cliff dwellings. There are no exact reasons as to why these people chose to live up here, other then it was good shelter, safe and near fairly fertile land for them to grow their crops on. Unusually the homes aren't near a river, their source of water was springs that seeped through the rocks - this means it was well filtered but in dry spells there wasn't much of it. This is one of the reasons they think the cliff dwellings were abandoned around 1300, there was quite possibly a drought so the people had to pack and move to a place with a better source of water - this is only an assumption though, no one knows for definite why they left as they left their store rooms full of corn. They know the timings of when they moved in here and left by carbon dating the wood which they used in the structures in their homes.
We'd been told it was about an hours hike but it wasn't really, it took an hour but I'd guess that we only walked about 200 yards to get to, from and round the cliff dwellings. To get to the dwellings we had to climb up a 30 foot wooden ladder which was pretty cool, the non cool bit was having to crawl through a little tunnel on hands and knees - I didn't like that bit but it was worth it to get to the house bit - one of the balconies was enclosed but the other wasn't and just opened up to a drop of about 200 feet below. They assume that the room where the balcony was was used as a school and the wall was to stop little Childers falling over the edge. It is really mind-blowing how they built these houses and how they lived in them all those years ago.
While we were on the guided tour I spotted a bit of wildlife, a little yellow and black snake, a couple of rock squirrels, some chipmunks, a hummingbird and on the way back down to our campsite a mummy deer with her baby who ran out in front if our van - along with the prairie dogs that's a pretty decent animal quota for one day.
Back at the campsite, the others had enjoyed their afternoon in the pool and had dinner almost prepared - fajitas, mine was with some Santa Fe black bean burgers I'd bought earlier in the week and was another tasty tea washed down with the Colorado beer. It wasn't much later that I headed to my tent.
Steps: 9,980 / 4 mile