After a crazy (beautiful) drive from Ouray, we finally arrived at Mesa Verde National Park Visitor’s Center. This location was highly anticipated. I was very excited about this park and it’s amazing cliff dwellings. Unfortunately things did not go as expected.
We arrived to the Mesa Verde Visitor’s Center, and decided to divide and conquer. Chris was to wait in line for tickets for a tour, and I was going to hang out in the museum with Calvin. Calvin and I walked around for approximately 4 minutes before running out of things to do, and he found himself exploring overpriced items in the gift shop. Chris met us there with bad news. The tours were all sold out for that day AND the next day. The Ranger had pointed to some ruins on the map that were open for self-exploration. They were an hour and a half away from the visitor’s center. As we had already driven over three hours that day AND we had the camper hitched on, we decided that we would wait until the next day to go see the cliff dwellings.
Chris could sense my disappointment (I literally cried in the parking lot of the visitor’s center). So, upon check-in to our campground, he asked for advice on what to see. We learned that Lowry Pueblo of Canyon of the Ancients National Monument was about 20 minutes from the campground. So, that’s where we went!
It was a bit overcast upon our arrival to Lowry Pueblo, but it was a short outdoor hike around the ruins. With about 40 rooms in the pueblo building, this was considered “Medium sized” for the area. We were able to actually go into the pueblo, and to explore the Great Kiva a few hundred yards down the path. While walking around, I spotted something large and black scurrying across some nearby stone bricks. It was a turantula!!! The first one that any of us had seen in the wild. Calvin was most excited by the prickly pear cacti that he spotted around the grounds. (He took tons of photos of them on his “Calvin Cam”)
We were all on such a high from exploring Lowry Pueblo, that we headed decided to continue towards Hovenweep National Monument! It was a little more than 30 minutes down the road, we had no idea what to expect, and as we drove it started to drizzle. But, it didn’t deter us, we were riding our ancient monument high!
When we arrived at Hovenweep National Monument, we discovered the Square Tower Loop Trail right out the back of the Ranger Station. There’s a paved path that takes you .32 miles to an overlook. Then the Square Tower Trail loops 2 miles around the small canyon, where you can observe about a dozen or more ancient Puebloan buildings. Chris and I gazed in admiration. (Calvin thought they were nice, but entertained himself by attempting to “keep off the lava”.) Overall, it was such an awesome hike for our family.
Just one note, these places were pretty isolated. There were few signs indicating National Monuments, trailheads, etc. Mostly, we drove through farm land, which felt odd. That night, the route back to the Cortez campground from Hovenweep National Monument was slightly less remote. Neither one of us had cell service during that time though.
We woke up to rain, rain, and more rain. But, I had planned for this. My contigency plan was to take Calvin to the Anasazi Heritage Center, which was also the Canyon of the Ancients Visitor’s Center. (Since we had the America the Beautiful Pass, there was no admission fee) The museum was full of artifacts from Paleo-Indians,a replica of a pueblo, more recent Anasazi bowls and jewelry, and an art exhibit about Petroglyphs. They had drawers full of artifacts, microscopes to view seeds and artifacts, and a metate for kids to grind corn the way that Puebloans did (but no actual corn to grind.) There was a “Junior Archaelogist” program that Calvin participated in, but overall it wasn’t a totally kid friendly museum. I did read that they have Native American Dances and Flute playing weekday evenings during the summer. That would have been very special to see.
That afternoon, we attempted to self-tour the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. We drove a little over an hour into the park until we reached the Far View Lodge & Gift Shop. There was a split in the road, with one road leading towards Spruce Tree House and the other leading towards Step House. Both were listed as possible self-guided tours, but upon looking at our map, both appeared to have closed at the end of September. We decided to stop to ask for directions, and a staff member told us that none of the ruins were open for self tour. You could drive on the road to view them, but you couldn’t go in without a tour. Frustrated, and tired of sitting in the car, we headed back towards the camper.
I was beside myself with disappointment, but I was determined not to make the day a total loss. I saw that Four Corners Monument was only 45 minutes away, and didn’t close until 6:50 at night. So, I popped in the car and took off, with an estimated arrival time of 5:45 pm. Unfortunately, I decided to call my sister to re-live my sad tale, and somehow I missed my turn… leading me an additional 45 minutes out of the way. But, I still arrived before 6:50, excited to be in 4 states at once! Unfortunately, for some reason, Four Corners Monument had closed at 4:50 that afternoon. I was so mad I almost climbed the fence, despite the No Trespassing signs. And, I wasn’t the only one. Half a dozen cars pulled in after me, and we all looked at the closed sign with desperation. I drove the 45 minutes home, and I immediately curled up and went to bed.
This was the toughest day of the trip for me. People always ask me how we’re doing living in a small space, or how Calvin is doing with the travelling. I get asked about the driving and sleeping in a different place every night. All of that is great actually. But, what’s tough is when nothing goes according to plan, and you miss out on opportunities as a result. We all have those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days (even when you’re on the trip of a lifetime.)