The first national park we visited was Mesa Verde National park. (July 5)
We spent the previous night in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We got up around 8am and left at 9am. I should mention our daily routine included draining the cooler and filling it up with ice from the hotel ice machine for the food. We had restocked groceries and washed clothes at hotel laundry. We were tired and the hotel manager, Pete, opened up a top floor conference room so that guests could watch fireworks. It was a nice alternative to going to watch the fireworks live since we were tired. Also we could see multiple shows from this vantage point.
So with ice chest and car packed and our tummies filled with the hotel breakfast, we headed off to Colorado. Once we entered Colorado, the topography of the land changed again. The desert mountains gave way to some greener mountains.
We arrived at Mesa Verde National Park in the early afternoon. First, we went to the visitors center to buy tickets to the Cliff Dwelling tours. It was hot outside and we still needed to eat our lunch, so we bought the tickets for one of the final tours at Cliff Palace.
NOTE: You need to give yourself some time to get down to the dwellings, so don’t pick a time that’s too early.
Next we headed to our campsite. Morefield is the only campsite in the park. It comes up before the sites and lodges. There’s a shower station, laundry and shop. The campsite also has a scavenger hunt for kids. It looked like fun but we didn’t have time.
We got to our camp site and ate our picnic lunch. The sun was up high and it was hot. So we decided to come back after the tour to put up the tent.
We then drove down to Mesa Top Loop. When you get to the loop, you can drive from site to site. There’s parking along the road. The sites are remnants of ancient dwellings, including pit houses. The older two loved reading and exploring the sites. My youngest was a little young to quite understand it all. He was feeling really hot, so I ended up waiting in the car with him. The other two would step out, look around and come back to the car.
Soon, it was time for our tour. The rangers will tell you to arrive 30 minutes ahead of the tour. I’ll warn you that there’s not much shade at that spot. I would advise parking in the parking lot and wait in the shaded area close to the parking lot. There are some benches and trees for shades. There’s a path you can then follow down to the area where the ranger will meet you. There’s signs directed people. I would get there about 15 minutes ahead.
The Cliff Palace tour begins with a descent down a ladder. You have to climb at different ladder at the end of the tour. If you can’t climb ladders, I don’t believe there is an alternative to get to the site. Other than that, there isn’t much walking in the tour.
The tour is fantastic. All of enjoyed it! Our ranger was an archeologist and very knowledgeable but kept the information on a level that those of us not familiar could understand and follow. My oldest peppered her with questions afterwards as well. The youngest enjoyed the tour as well. Climbing up and down the stairs and looking at the dwellings made him feel “like an explorer!”
After the tour, we stopped by the Far View Terrace for dinner. It’s a casual place, but we were so sweaty, we wanted someplace casual to eat. We ordered some Navajo Tacos. These a huge, so we shared along with some flat bread, there was definitely enough food for all of us. There’s also a gift shop attached.
On our way out, we were greeted with a beautiful rainbow!
Finally, we got back to the campsite. We set up the tent quickly. We drove over to the main area to shower.
NOTE: Showers at the National Parks differ park to park. Some are free, some are only open for a certain time period. The ones at Mesa Verde are free and 24 hour. Let me repeat that, free and 24. There are plenty of pros and cons to that and I’ll just leave it at that.
Showering after being out in nature is always a good idea. You want to wash off any potential bugs or maybe poisons vegetation or allergens that get on you. It feels pretty good too.
Finally we crawled into bed. It was the first time I ever camped alone with the kids. At one point, I think I heard coyotes howling and the wind picked up as well. Finally, I fell asleep.
The next morning, we packed up the tent and went over to the Morefield camping store. There’s a covered porch there and you can buy breakfast. There’s an all-you-can eat pancake breakfast. We all ended up picking the breakfast burritos. They are huge! It can take a bit of time to prepare your breakfast, so we emptied our cooler and refilled with ice. I also went and filled up gas.
Our final stop at the park was back to the entrance and main visitor center. There, the kids got their junior ranger badges. The gift shop had a 10 percent discount if you earn a badge. Another note: every park has different discounts.
Next stop: Arches National Park