August 22, 2019

Mesa Verde National Park - A Step Back in Time (National Parks Trip #2)

This post represents another installment in the series detailing the second of our three cross country National Parks camping trips with travel trailer in tow.  At the time of this trip in 2010, our son, Ryan, was 16 and our daughter, Kyra, was 11.

When one or both parents are working, it can be difficult to build the vacation you really want to take around a limited number of days off.  It’s very true that Alan, I and our two kids could have flown to our various destinations, rented a car and booked a hotel - and there are certainly countless families that do that and have absolutely wonderful vacations.  For us, however, camping is the adventure and having all the comforts and conveniences of home tagging along behind us is just how we prefer to roll.

Luckily, by the time our second National Parks trip was in the planning stage, Alan had six weeks of vacation to work with.  (That grammatical error was just for you, Mike!)  I was working part time in the local school district, so my summers (and the kids’, of course) were free.  Once Alan’s approval came through for a four week block of time, we had a major decision to make – the same one we faced every time we started to plan a vacation.  Do we limit the stops and immerse ourselves in each one?  Or do we try to fit more in, but make the visits to each National Park shorter?  It was never an easy choice and, honestly, we would have had a great time no matter which option we chose.

Welcome to Mesa Verde National Park!

Because so many of our spectacular National Parks are in the western part of the United States, we have to factor in the “get there” time and figure out what we think would be the best use of the remaining days we have.  (Four weeks sounds like a lot of vacation time but, once you realize that it’s going to take you almost a third of that just to make your way out west and back, four weeks doesn’t sound like enough time at all.

Mesa Verde ~ "Green Table"

After much discussion, for all three of our cross country National Parks trips with one or both of the kids along, Alan and I decided on the “sampler vacation” itinerary.  We would try to visit as many National Parks as we could, allowing only up to several days in each.  Our hope was that, by getting a taste of many different Parks, we’d be able to nail down our favorites, and then return in the future for extended stays.  As for the kids, since both of them had been good travelers since they were little tykes, if there was ever a time to jam pack the itineraries, it was when they were still young enough to view every day as a grand adventure - and Alan and I were just young enough, period.

Morefield Campground in Mesa Verde National Park

Having spent only one night at Great Sand Dunes National Park, playing in the giant sandbox on the afternoon we arrived and then, again, the next morning before we left, we were happy that we only had about 200 miles to go to get to the Morefield Campground within Mesa Verde National Park.  Both National Parks are in Colorado - Great Sand Dunes is in the south-central part of the state and Mesa Verde is in the southwest corner.  So, it was an easy hop, skip and a jump from one to the other.

Wide open spaces at Morefield

Morefield is unusual for a National Park campground in that it’s more of a small, one-stop village than just a campground.  Camping reservations are made through the concessionaire, Aramark Services, rather than, and the campground complex contains a gas station, a grocery, souvenir and camping supply store, a kennel where you can easily board your pup for the day while you’re out exploring the Park and a cafĂ© – which even serves an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast during the summer.  The camping area itself is a true National Park campground - don’t expect an RV resort just because there are other amenities available.  Morefield provided an excellent base for exploring Mesa Verde and I would certainly camp there again if we return to the Park.

There are many ruins and dwellings to visit at Mesa Verde.

Alan and I have always tried to stress to Ryan and Kyra that there is a whole lot more to the world than the tiny, rural town they grew up in.  (There’s another one, Mike!)  We live in the mountains, surrounded by trees and close to many lakes and rivers.  The opportunity to explore historical places like Mesa Verde, with its numerous cliff dwellings and distinct views back in time, provides an education that involves much more hands-on learning than any lessons taught in a classroom setting.  According to the National Park Service web site, Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 to preserve and interpret the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from 600 to 1300 CE. Today, the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.”

Step this way to Cliff Palace!

While you can certainly enjoy this National Park by grabbing a map and taking a self-guided tour, the real highlights here are the Ranger-led tours held at a number of the dwellings.  (Note that some dwellings can only be visited on one of these tours.)  Tours of Balcony House, Long House and Cliff Palace (the largest cliff dwelling in the Park) are currently priced at $5.00 per person and tickets must be purchased in person.  The tours tend to sell out quickly, but you can buy them up to two days ahead of time.  If you plan to tour any of these dwellings, it would be best to get your tickets as early in the day as possible - or one or two days in advance.  At the time of our visit, we were able to purchase our tour tickets right at the Morefield Campground complex, but they are also available at the Mesa Verde Visitor Center near the Park entrance.

Some of the cliff dwellings are amazingly well-preserved.

More adventurous Park visitors may be interested in a backcountry hiking tour with a Park Ranger to Oak Tree House, Square Tower House or the Yucca House National Monument.  You can reserve a spot on one of these tours through (link HERE).  Early Bird and Twilight tours at Cliff Palace, as well as several other tours, may also be available.   Because the tours are offered on a rotating basis, your best bet is to check the web site to see what's available for the year in which you're traveling.

Cliff Palace

It is the iconic photo of Cliff Palace (above) that always comes to mind whenever anyone mentions Mesa Verde National Park.  For that reason, we decided to tour Cliff Palace with a Park Ranger, and visit the other cliff dwellings on our own.  This excellent tour lasted about an hour and at five bucks a head was an incredible bargain.  Standing in the ancient cliff dwelling, learning its history and seeing Ryan and Kyra peering into its corners and climbing down into the kiva was an experience like no other we have had in a National Park.  Although visitors walk a total of only about a quarter mile on this tour, it is necessary to climb five 8’ to 10’ ladders on a 100’ vertical climb.  The other point to be aware of is that tickets for the tours can be purchased only at the Campground or Visitor Center – both of which are miles away from any of the cliff dwellings.  Before buying tickets, be sure to ask how long it will take to get to the cliff dwelling you intend to tour.  In some cases, it could be more than an hour and you certainly wouldn’t want to miss your tour.

Kyra ~ checking out a crevice

Honestly, Alan and I are not huge history buffs, but our visit to Mesa Verde was exceptionally educational and enjoyable.  Our magnificent National Parks never fail to impress us and each continues to shine with its own unique attributes and personality.  The foresight of past presidents and conservationists provided every one of us with an amazing gift when these public lands were protected and the National Park Service was created.  Get out there to visit and explore them, and be sure to take your children and grandchildren with you.  Our National Parks can provide the adventure of a lifetime – and a lifetime of adventure.

Alan and Ryan ~ using the same handholds the Ancestral Pueblo people did centuries ago

For more information on Mesa Verde National Park, hop on over to the National Park Service web site (link HERE).  To book a reservation at Morefield Campground, you’ll want to visit Aramark Services (link HERE).  Enjoy your visit!


  1. Well, thank you for preempting my scoffing at your sentence-ending prepositions; Now, I'll never know whether good or evil would have prevailed. Would I have had the good breeding not to mention the transgressions, or would my OCD have demanded some snarky comment at any cost? I guess I'll never know about that, but I'd like to think I would have listened to the angel on one shoulder rather than the devil on the other. Superb post, as usual; we have good memories, too, of Mesa Verde.

    1. Mike, I have absolutely no doubt that you would have taken the high road. Reluctantly, maybe, but the high road all the same. It's always a struggle choosing between following those pesky rules of grammar and writing like I actually speak. Sometimes one wins, sometimes the other.

      P.S. Thanks for your note about the problem with the post. Although Blogger does do some strange things on occasion, I can assure you that, this time, it was all me - and I appreciated the heads up!


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