Mesa Verde came recommended by Alex as a completely different national park experience. She wasn’t wrong. Only about ten minutes’ drive east of Cortez, we started a beautiful drive up to the top of Mesa Verde. The Visitor Centre was a good half an hour in to the park, we stopped here to purchase tickets for two ranger guided tours around some of the cliff dwellings. For Mesa Verde was home to a large number of dwellings (some 4700 separate sites have been found so far) since the sixth century. On the top of mesa (which is not actually a proper mesa due to its sloping sides) we were up around 7000ft/2500m – what possessed ancients to come & live up here is beyond me. Still, it must have been sustainable, as they stayed until about 1300 & then packed up & left leaving a lot of houses.
Our first tour was of the Cliff Palaces – not really a palace as they had no king or queen, but about 450 little dwellings perched in an alcove near the top of the cliff. We had to climb down some pretty steep steps (some metal, some set in to the cliff side) & gradually got to walk across the front of the area while listening to the ranger explain it all. I’ve absorbed a lot of history today, so don’t feel like repeating much of it here. There was a lot of grain storage areas, little houses for families, & sunken circular family meeting areas. It was pretty neat seeing the progression of their building skills from the bottom (early) layers to the top (later) layers – there were a lot of square edges & some of the towers went right up to the alcove ceiling.
After lunch was the more difficult drop down to Balcony House on another ranger-guided tour. I have no idea how the original residents got in – maybe they had a massive ladder too.
This area was smaller than the Cliff Palaces, but no less intruiging. There were a lot of balconies (in various states of disrepair) & some of the tiny rooms were still intact.
To get out, we had to crawl twelve feet or so through a skinny little tunnel on our hands & knees & then up another ladder & scramble up a steep rockface – good fun. Above the tunnel on the internal side, there were various staggered platforms for defending the area by throwing things at invaders (cows, ducks & so on I expect – prompting cries of “crawl away, crawl away!”).
We spent another hour or so driving around other sites before heading back to Cortez rather historied-out.
But that didn’t matter as I had another ride planned. A rather nice mountain-bike guide I was chatting to during the walk down from Delicate Arch on Sunday insisted that I ride Phil’s World if I was going to Cortez. I duly obliged – the trail is only four miles east of town. It was fantastic. I did all of the loop options, save one last five mile one at the end as sunset was fast approaching. It’s all purpose built singletrack (unlike most of what I’ve ridden recently) & it’s a super smooth surface, with the odd rock feature thrown in. I managed 24 km in an hour & forty & it was all at a beginner-intermediate level. There was nothing technically challenging in it for an intermediate rider like me – it was just plain fun, flowing trail. It was all easily done in the middle ring – as they didn’t have a lot of altitude gain to play with. I was surprised when I checked that I was over 2000m – but my lungs weren’t screaming, so that was good. Dusk was a great time to ride – I didn’t see another rider on my trail – the light was good & I was joined by a lot of singing birds, lizards & some big jack-rabbits (they have ridiculously large ears – to help cope with the heat). A very pleasant evening ride – if I had this on my doorstep, I’d feel like Postman Pat (a really happy man). I got my trip up to 32 km with a nice big-ring ride into town towards a blustery wind & the setting sun.
Rib Cage was the best section of the loop – many, many steep downs followed by short ups & then little jumps with nice landings at the top. The trail was in fact so smooth & well made that I didn’t notice my rear shock was locked out fully until the end of the ride – oops.