We left our hotel in Cortez and drove less than an hour to
the Four Corners National Monument. This
is the spot that four states (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah) all come
together in one place. It was a bit in
the middle of nowhere and I lost cell phone reception as we got closer to the
monument. Thankfully there were signs,
so we did not have any problems finding it.
I am not exactly sure what I was expecting, but it there was not as much
to it as I thought there would be.
The Four Corners spot was pretty neat, labeled with each of
the states, and there were places to stand a little higher up on each side to
make for good photo opportunities of the corner. We waited while one other family finished
their photos, and then Hannah took to the center, posing for as many pictures
as I was willing to take of her. It was
not a busy day, so we had plenty of time.
I had Hannah take one photo of me in the center, but the photo is only
of my upper body, so you can’t actually see what I am standing on. This is what you get with a 5 year old
Each “state” had a line of vendors along it, creating a square marketplace selling mostly handmade Native American artifacts. We walked all the way around the square while Hannah stopped at nearly every vendor to compare product and prices. I gave her a $10 limit, which got her some very cool beaded hair clips and a bracelet.
Beyond the square was a hiking trail called Stateline
Trail. We walked to the trailhead, but
decided not to hike it as we were heading to Canyon de Chelly National Monument
which was another two hours away.
However, as I mentioned earlier, I was no longer getting any cell phone
service, so when I opened Google Maps to find our route, I got a “no service”
message looking back at me. I vaguely
remembered seeing that our route would take us west, so I did my best and guessed
on the direction to take upon exiting the monument. About 30 minutes later, my service returned
and confirmed we were on the right road.
The drive from Alamosa to Mesa Verde National Park was
gorgeous. We weaved through the Rio
Grande National Forest taking twists and turns, through valleys and alongside rivers. We stopped at a gas station just outside of
the turn into the park to fill up. The
last time I was here with Jim in 2011, we didn’t realize how far up the
mountain the actual park was, and we were almost out of gas by the time we got
to the top. On the return down the
mountain, we had to put the car in neutral and brake our way down to make sure
we would make it to a gas station. I
wasn’t about to make that mistake again!
We arrived at the Visitor Center and the Park Ranger gave
Hannah a Junior Ranger book. We do not
do these at every park, but occasionally when we have extra time, she does
enjoy them. It may be easier when Hannah
can read better, but at this point, she needed a lot of help with it, and since
I was driving up a winding road along a mountainside, I thought I should keep
my eyes on the road instead of sounding out “Pueblo” for her. Some of the
activities did not require reading though, and she enjoyed looking through and
drawing in the book on the 45 minute drive up the mountain.
Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum
Since it was the week of Thanksgiving, there was a skeleton crew working and not everything was open. This was a bit of a bummer, but it also kept the crowds down, and I felt there was still plenty to see and do. At the top, there is a Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum that Hannah really enjoyed. It featured many artifacts the ancient Pueblo people used. There were also several small scenes showing how they originally built their homes and the development into the current cliff dwellings that you can walk through and see today. It is incredible to see what they were capable of with such little tools and technology. Mesa Verde Map
After the museum, we took the car around the Mesa Top Loop
making several stops to visit the sites and see the cliff dwellings. Hannah and I discussed the challenges they
must have had building their homes on the side of a cliff, and how they had to
hunt for their food. I also told her
that “Mesa Verde” means “green table” in Spanish and why it was called that
with the tall plateau landforms with steep sides that looked like a table.
Far View Sites
On our way down, we stopped at the Far View Sites which was a flat less-than-one mile hike showcasing some of the top pithouses and other ruins. It was really neat as you are able to walk into the ruins as long as you stay off the walls. The Pueblos were living at the Far View sites at least 200 years before they built the more famous cliff dwellings for which the park is so well known.
We cruised back down the mountain and arrived at our hotel
in Cortez, grabbed dinner from the restaurant across the street, and you
guessed it… hit the swimming pool! We
met a really nice family with 2 young girls at the pool, and I ended up talking
to the mom for quite some time. The next
morning Hannah begged me to go to the pool again before we left, and we saw the
family again. Although I do not mind
travelling alone with Hannah, it’s really nice to make those adult connections
from time to time. It’s also really
fascinating to meet people from all over and get a little glimpse into their
Even if some of the park is closed for the holidays, you can
still see and learn a lot. I was a
little bummed that the Spruce Tree House was not open due to restorations being
done, but Hannah did not seem fazed by that and she had a great time exploring
the dwellings we could visit.
We arrived in the city of Alamosa early afternoon and went
straight to our hotel – Holiday Inn Express & Suites – for a swim. With the distance we already drove from Santa
Fe, and the park being another 45 minutes from Alamosa, I didn’t want to push
Hannah’s patience and car trip time any further that day, as I knew this
vacation was going to be a lot of car riding and driving overall. We were spending two nights in Alamosa, so we
had the entire next day to explore the park.
Also, being the only adult, I don’t have the ability to research
anything while in the car, so I spent that first night figuring out a
I was researching what to do in the park and everything I
was reading said to rent sand sleds or sand boards (like a snow board) and
bring them to the park. Thankfully the
reviews I was reading also informed me that these have to be rented in Alamosa
and they DO NOT rent them at the National Park.
I am so thankful I read that in advance, as I would have had a very sad
5 year old on my hands if we showed up and had to drive 45 minutes back to town
for the sled!
As luck would have it, there was a sports shop within walking distance of our hotel! We stopped atKristi Mountain Sportsthe next morning and rented one adult sand sled for $20. They had child sized ones available as well, but I knew I would already be carrying a backpack along with the adult sled, and I figured we could share. They gave us the sled and taught us how to “wax” it before every run.
The drive out was pretty uneventful. You could see the mountainous sand dunes in the distance but it was hard to tell how far away they were. Everything else around us was flat. As we drove into the park, we saw hundreds of elk grazing in a field. The Visitor Centerwas great and Hannah wanted to play with every cool sand storm exhibit they had in there. We asked the rangers where to go and they informed us of where to park and said, “You can go anywhere! But the higher you climb, the better the sledding!” We drove down to the parking lot and got our daypack ready, loaded with clothes layers, PB&Js we made in the morning in our hotel room, and other snacks.
You start by crossing the Medano Creek river bed and hiking
about ½ mile before you hit the dunes.
In November, when we were there, it is a dry river bed, but in the
spring, with the snow melting off the mountains, it is an actual river that you
wade through. The sand can get pretty
hot there in the summer, so it is recommended that you were tennis shoes rather
than flip flops, but that was not as big of a concern in the late fall.
I wasn’t sure how far Hannah would make it before she needed a break. But to my surprise, we actually made it about halfway up to the top before she said she wanted to try the sled. We waxed it up and took our first ride down together, her in front of me. We hit an unfortunate bump which made sand fly right into her face. She thought this was hilarious, while I was glad she blocked it all from hitting my face! We took several more rides on this medium sized hill, testing the sled out together and separately.
The way the dunes are shaped by the winds can make some
areas really tough, if not impossible to climb up. You have to find a ridgeline and hike that
and then decide which “bowl” you are going to slide down. The sand seemed to be finer as you went up,
making the sled go faster.
It was a gorgeous fall day without a cloud in the sky. With the wind blocked, the sun felt amazing
and we removed several layers of clothes.
However, as soon as you crested a ridgeline and that wind hit, you
wanted them all back on right away. We
took a break for lunch and then decided to explore more.
I let Hannah lead the way and she found a new bowl for us to
try. Instead of sledding, she decided
she wanted to roll down into it. At the
bottom, we were completely blocked by the wind.
She played in that bowl doing headstands, cartwheels, and rolling around
while I relaxed and soaked up the sun.
Hiking Out and Dinner
As the sun was getting lower in the sky, I knew it would get colder, so we decided to slowly make our way back to the car, sledding down the dunes where we could. We pulled back into Alamosa around dinner time, dropped off the sled at Kristi Mountain Sports, and stopped at this great restaurant called Locavores. I ordered some delicious fish tacos, while Hannah opted for her favorite, mac and cheese. Back at the hotel, as we took our layers of clothes off, it had appeared we brought a mini sand dune home with us. I think we had sand in our hair the remainder of the trip.
Doing some research ahead of time can save you a lot of time
and aggravation. Thankfully we took the
day before to research about the sled rentals instead of driving straight out to