From Durango we headed towards Mesa Verde National Park – the only National Park fully dedicated to archaeology. The drive up to the Park is windy and slow, and you realise that you are climbing up to a plateau, standing high above the surrounding land. Ancient people lived here for about 500 years (from about 800 AD – 1300 AD), and they chose this strategic area carefully.
Mesa Verde offers an incredible foray into ancient Native American life. The ruins are spread out over a very large area, and it takes at least half a day to see it all properly. Some of the remains are in such good shape that it seems as though these people abandoned their site only fairly recently.
While Mesa Verde is only one of many native American archeological sites in the Four Corners region, since it is a National Park, access is pretty straightforward and it is the most visited of the sites by far. It wasn’t always like this – in fact, these astonishing ruins lay unknown to outsiders until late in the 19th century. The site has been voted the “World’s Top Tourist Attraction” in recent years by none other than Conde Naste Traveler. For kids, it offers up an incredible adventure.
You can only access the ruins with a guide and tours take place at various times of year – check before you go to make sure what will or won’t be open. As soon as you arrive at the Park, go to the visitor center and buy your tickets – you’ll be told what you can and can’t see – whether you have enough time to see all the sites or not isn’t that important – they are all so interesting and so much fun that whatever you see will be worth it. Some of the guided tours involve scrambling up high ladders and crawling through little spaces – perhaps not that easy for all adults, but a real life adventure for the kids. Try get to see as much as you can. Our four-year old managed just fine (with some help sometimes).
The kids loved it – even when we had to wait around in a cave during an electric storm – the guide was very careful to make sure we didn’t wander around while there was lightning.
Even if you’re not that interested in archaeology and ancient history, Mesa Verde is worth it.
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