Hannah – 5 years old – National Park #5
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 lives.
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.