How many times have you been to Mesa Verde? Lots? Me too.
People come here from all over the world to wonder at the remains from around 900 years ago, while familiarity can breed yawns in us locals.
But every year in January, I start to get desert fever. By March, it's irresistible. On March 7 with warm sun and bright blue skies, I had to go somewhere involving desert. Mesa Verde was the closest option to get out of the house.
I'm notoriously not a morning person, so my idea of getting an early start means before 11 a.m. As it was, even without eating breakfast at home, I didn't get to the fast food restaurant in Durango in time for the breakfast menu. But the burger with jalapenos hit the spot. I took the coffee with me.
I stopped in Mancos for gas and to go through a couple of their nice downtown galleries. Mancos is making a name for itself that way. People have tried to do that in downtown Bayfield, without much success. No idea why it works there but not here.
Anyway, it was pushing 1 p.m. when I got to Mesa Verde. I stopped in the new visitor center just off Highway 160. It's a nice building, powered mainly (if not totally) by a big bank of solar panels.
The ranger said I could pay $10 to go into the park for the day, or $10 to get the old peoples' pass that gets you into any national park or federal fee area for free, apparently from now until you croak. It's a screamin' deal, one of those too good to be true that actually is true, unlike pretty much all the others. So I'm set.
I headed up the twisty 20 mile road into the park with no big ambitions, except to hike down to Spruce Tree House and to the Square Tower House overlook. The main point was just to be there and enjoy a really nice day.
I passed on going through the museum in the old visitor center, since my priority was to be outside. But it's worth going through, to get a feel for life there back in the 1200s.
I made a leisurely walk down to Spruce Tree House. The trail goes through rather jungly vegetation, at least by desert standards. I am mindful that the Spruce Tree House residents had to go up and down without the benefit of a nice paved path. There are two springs just up the way from the cliff dwelling. I'm guessing they were a prime reason the Ancient Ones built there, because the winter sun exposure isn't that great. I've been there in mid-January.
I hiked back up to the parking area and ate the sandwich I brought from home. Then I drove the mesa top loop with the Navajo Canyon and Square Tower House overlooks.
At this time of year, the park isn't deluged with visitors. The quiet can be awesome. At those overlooks, and with minimal wind, the only sound was circling crows and ravens. The long line of empty parking spaces at these stops indicate the situation is far different come summer (when it's to hot to go there anyway).
That's a reason to go now.
I took enough photos to prove I was there. There are several other interesting overlooks on that road, including Cliff Palace, but I've shot good photos of them on previous visits, so I didn't stop. The afternoon light was wrong for Cliff Palace.
The Cliff Palace loop road is closed to vehicles at this time of year, as is the Wetherill Mesa road and the Park Point with its 360 degree views - a good place to compare the air quality looking north, and looking south to those coal-fired power plants west of Farmington.
For me, the lack of tourist hordes is a worthwhile tradeoff for the reduced park access at this time of year.
It was a very quick run through the World Heritage Site, a lot faster than it deserves, but it satisfied my goal for the day. Maybe another day this month I'll manage to get myself out of the house early enough to go someplace farther away for another desert fix.