The drive to Mesa Verde took another 4 hours and we camped just outside the park at another BLM site. This one was a more woodsy and was a really great spot. We could see Mesa Verde and we were a little more protected from the elements. There were also other people doing the same thing so it felt a little safer. We set up camp made dinner and hit the hay hoping to get another early start to explore Mesa Verde.
In the morning we packed up and headed into the park. Our first stop was the visitor center where we picked up a map and talked to a very enthusiastic Ranger who told us all about the things to see and best hikes. Mesa Verde is where the Anasazi people built cliff dwellings back in the day. We were pretty stoked to check them out. To get back to the cliff dwellings you have drive another 45 mins into the park. The drive is beautiful and winding though so you barely notice how long it takes.
There are a couple different loops you can take another road that takes you even farther away. We opted for the two closer loops. Our first activity was the Soda Canyon Overlook trail. The short 1.2 mile trail gave us some amazing views of the Canyon as well as a distant view of the Blacony House cliff dwelling. We were super glad we brought binoculars. You can take tours of some of the dwellings but it costs extra and since we only had a half day there, we opted for the “free.99” tour.
The cliff dwellings are really cool though, even from afar. Our next stop gave us views of the most popular dwelling called Cliff Palace. It really does resemble a palace and we were all amazed at how something so big could be constructed on the side of a cliff. Impressive stuff. We made lunch in the parking lot before heading out on the Petroglyph Point Trail for a 2.4 mile hike. The trail was awesome and pretty easy. Lots of shade and wonderful views of the canyon. The trail is named for the petroglyphs you see at the half way point carved into the canyon. A petroglyph (I’ve been told) is a picture story usually in one large image. This one apparently shows the Anasazi people being “born” out of the Grand Canyon. Interesting. We stayed and looked at the image for a bit then decided to head out. The walk back was on top of the canyon and gave us even more great views. Huntar and I faced our fear of heights a little but didn’t dare get too close to the edge. Ethan, on the other hand, got as close as possible and scared the daylights out of both of us.
After our hike we loaded back into the car and got back on the road. We were all very excited to be getting closer to one of our top destinations, the Grand Canyon. We decided to drive half way and the do the rest in the morning. We camped at Navajo National Monument which has two campgrounds that are both free. Score! The first one has running water and flush toilets but not as good of views. The second is on top of a ridge that gives you a great view of a canyon on one side and a lovely view of the sunset over the desert on the other (no water and only vault toilets). The campgrounds were both really cool and we were surprised that they are free. We found a spot with a great view of the canyon and right across from the vault toilet (convenient!).