New State: Colorado
We were heading to Mesa Verde but the web site said there was a crack in a wall and it was closed. Fortunately, A.H. John of Navtech (see Canyonlands) said there was more there, so we kept it on the itinerary.
Rebecca saw Telluride is within range of Mesa Verde, so we decided to check it out. Telluride is home to one of the premiere bluegrass festivals. We will probably go there some day, especially after seeing the town.
The road to Telluride was breathtaking. It climbs through the San Juan Mountains, culminating at Lizardhead Gap, at over 10,000 feet. The mountaintops were draped with a fresh coat of snow.
We were glad to get a taste of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, especially at this time of year, with the aspens turning yellow. These Rockies are a lot taller than most of the Rockies we saw further north.
Telluride is a ski resort situated high in a valley between two high mountain ridges. We stayed in the city park campground, which is a nice, wooded space on a babbling stream an easy walk from town. Our timing was excellent, as we were between the crowded summer and ski seasons.
We went into a bank to get a roll of quarters, where we were asked, “Have you ridden the gondola?” Er, no. We generally don’t like to pay for lift rides; we prefer to hike up and snag a free ride down. Walking around town we saw the gondola base station, so we moseyed over to discover the gondola ride is free.
Turns out the gondola doesn’t just run to the top, where it connects to the ski slopes, it continues down the other side to the Village of Mountain Valley, with a change of gondolas to a grocery store and a big parking lot.
That evening, after sampling a good pale ale at Smugglers and (at the recommendation of an Atlantan at the bar) a Detroit-style pizza, we boarded the free gondola (for the second time) and went grocery shopping.
The entrance into Mesa Verde National Park is a winding road up the exceptionally steep face of the mesa. Although it’s technically a cuesta rather than a mesa, since it slopes to the south instead of dropping off on all sides.
We spent the afternoon in the park. We saw the remains of several cliff dwellings, and the best part of the visit was climbing down stairs and up ladders into Balcony House. Our guide, Thespian John, was informative as well as animated, and welcomed questions.
The Pueblo Indians who occupied Mesa Verde lived there for 750 years. They abandoned the mesa in the thirteenth century. They had moved down to the cliffs less than a hundred years before moving away.