A Visit to Mesa Verde NP

Cortez, CO

We visited Mesa Verde for a few days last October, but rain and cold limited our exploration.  We returned this year to blue skies and warm temperatures, allowing us to visit a section of the park we missed last year.

Mesa Verde Visitor Center

After a stop at the visitor center to check on conditions in the park we headed up the entrance road.  Mesa Verde is a huge park and we had a drive of about 25 miles to reach our destination, the Wetherill Mesa (the least visited section), named after a family of local ranchers who explored the area in the late 1800s.

Lone Cone towers over the park entrance

Driving up on the mesa reveals great vistas of the valley to the north

After a drive of about 27 miles we came to the end of the road on Wetherill Mesa.  From the parking area you can hike or bike to a number of ruins left by the Ancestral Pueblo  cultures.  During the summer a tram takes visitors around a loop road to all the sites, but it was not operating during our visit.  Once parked, the first thing we did was hike about a mile down a paved trail to the Step House Ruins.

Approaching the Step House Ruins


The alcove containing the ruins

The ruins are named for a series of steps built by the ancients

A reconstructed pit house which was standard housing for centuries

In 1891 Swedish scientist Gustaf Nordenskiöld carved “No21” in a rock, his identification number for the Step House as he and other were exploring and digging here.  Grooves near the number were used by the residents to shape and sharpen stone tools.

No 21 in the rock

A short ladder allows access to the upper level of the ruins.

Looking down from the upper level

Large kiva in the upper level

Marks from grinding grain

We returned to the parking area and picked up a trail leading to the south.  After a half mile we took a side trail to the right and hiked almost a mile to the Nordenskiöld Overlook.  The trail went through an area that had burned in the 2000 Pony Fire.  Fire is a frequent visitor to the mesa, mostly caused by lightning strikes.

Approaching the overlook

Across the canyon from the overlook is what is called Nordenskiöld Site #16.  There is no access to this site for visitors.

The upper area was used as storage


Looking south from the overlook

We hiked back to the main trail and continued south for about a mile to the Badger House Community.  The Badger House Community consists of mesa top dwellings.  There are  four covered sites along a paved and graveled trail.  Each of the sets of ruins in this area are protected by a metal building. The first building houses some Basketmaker pithouse ruins.

The next site is a pueblo village which is followed by the Badger House ruins. One of the nice aspects of these various sites is how they show the progression of the Ancestral Puebloan people over hundreds and thousands of years from the archaic nomadic type lifestyle through the Basketmaker and Pueblo times.

In the Kiva pictured below you can see an opening to a tunnel.  The tunnel ran into the remains of tower pictured above.

We left the Badger House Community and hiked a short distance to an overlook where we could look down at the Long House Ruins.  The Long House village includes about 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and a row of upper storage rooms.  It may have been home to as many as 175 people.  You can purchase tickets for a ranger led tour of this site.



After hiking over five miles through the various sites we returned to the Jeep and headed back toward the park entrance.  A number of viewpoints along the way provide great views of the valley to the north.

Looking down on Cortez

The next day we moved about 75 miles west into Utah to visit the little community of Bluff.  We’ve stayed here many times before to hike the many canyons in the area, but this visit is just a one night stop.  What we really came here for was to have a bowl of delicious chicken noodle soup at the Twin Rocks Diner.  Unfortunately they have their off season menu and don’t have the soup now!

Oh well, tomorrow we’re off to Kanab, UT.  More on that later . . .

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19 Responses to A Visit to Mesa Verde NP

  1. exploRVistas says:

    How did we miss the Twin Rocks Diner? We ate at a steakhouse just up the street from our campground when we were there.

  2. Love those ruins and Mesa Verde! So sorry, no soup–it is so good!

  3. Jeff Pierce says:

    Thanks for sharing your visit to the less-visited side of the park.

  4. geogypsy2u says:

    Longhouse was my favorite site to lead tours.

  5. I’m so glad you were able to finally see the Aspens and do what you missed last year and the weather gods were with you. But noticed that you did not go further to the Grand Mesa for that one hike at the crags.
    Darn, who knew the soup is a seasonal dish!

    • placestheygo says:

      After seeing your photos of leaves last year I was so hoping we would get to see the change. We just made it. Boy are they spectacular. Last year the soup wasn’t seasonal. They had it in Oct when we were there. I hope they don’t discontinue it.

  6. Diana says:

    Nice photos! It’s always fun to read about other people’s experiences in places I’ve been to see how they differed. Also, we were here over the summer and there was no tram… I don’t think it exists anymore.

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Diana! I agree that it is interesting to see other perspectives on places we visit. I couldn’t find anything definitive about the tram but it does appear not to be there anymore. Thanks for the info.

  7. Laurel says:

    But this is soup season! That makes no sense at all that they wouldn’t serve soup in the fall. Oh well, they didn’t ask me. :-))
    It looks so odd to me to see the ruins covered with modern metal buildings. I know it’s a good way to protect them, but it looks so out of place. Do you know how long the buildings have been there? I don’t remember them…but our last visit was almost 20 years ago.

    • placestheygo says:

      I agree that soup season is coming. Strange! I hope they haven’t discontinued it. The buildings over the ruins looked brand new. I looked after reading your comment and couldn’t find any information about when they were built. I really don’t enjoy seeing ruins under cover like that but it certainly does protect them.

      • Laurel says:

        I agree it’s good to protect the ruins. Too bad they don’t build something that blends in a bit better with the landscape…but that would probably be prohibitively expensive!

  8. That’s great you got to “finish” this park! There are certainly a lot of beautiful ruins to be seen there. Good luck in Kanab!

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, I am glad I got to check the other mesa off my list. It was especially nice since we were the only ones at almost all the sites. No lottery luck today. I’ll try again tomorrow.

  9. Jim and Barb says:

    Great ruins, nice that you were able to get over there. Not sure what to think about the no soup thing!

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