Colorado was a must see destination, but due to time constraints we decided to stick to the Southwest region. Denver – we are coming to you next time! The Southwest area of Colorado is vastly different than the rocky mountain picturesque feel Colorado is known for. We spent a few days here exploring national parks and monuments.
Where We Stayed
We technically stayed in Utah, at Hovenweep National Monument, which is on the border of Utah and Colorado. The campsite was in Utah, while most of the trails are in Colorado – go figure. Our campsite was primitive, first come first serve. Hovenweep is not near any big city, so we were surprised that the campsite was packed. Lucky for us we found a site big enough for the Rpod. With it being very far from any major cities (or even minor ones) it was a great place for viewing the night sky. We had great views of stars, and the distant sounds of coyotes. It was amazing.
What We Did
On our first full day we took the hour drive to Mesa Verde National Park. We were not able to find a day care for Sparky, so we took him along, limiting some of our options at the park. For example, we were not able to take the popular Pueblo tour. We also were not able to do any of the trail hikes. We were able to do the scenic drive and a few paved trails with him, which still gave us plenty to do and see. One frustrating thing was the different communication we got from the rangers. At the main visitor center she told us a few trails were closed for the winter (the trails Sparky could do). When we got to a second visitor center the ranger said, oh no, the trails are open. At that point it was too late to drive to those trails, as we were deep inside the park and running out of daylight.
Mesa Verde National Park is a preserved archeological park of the Ancestral Pueblo people. They lived atop the mesas, in cliff dwellings and below in the canyon. We were able to see quite the variety. The park has over 600 cliff dwellings preserved today. The Pueblo people lived in this region from 550 to the late 1200s, and during that time saw advancement in many of their tools and techniques – as evident by their dwellings.
We did the scenic drive, which took us a few hours to complete. The park has fantastic views of the region, especially from Park Point Overlook at 8,572 feet elevation. However, the really impressive parts of the park are the cliff dwellings themselves. From the overlooks we got to see Spruce Tree House, Square Tower House, Sun Temple, Cliff Palace along with lots of pit houses and villages. If we were to return, we would sign up and pay for the tour of the Balcony House or Cliff Palace.
The next day we took the drive to the famous Four Corners, located on Navajo tribal property. The price was $5/person. It was fun to see… once. They did have a Navajo market, which was neat to look though. The four corners monument was a little busy and we had to wait to get our photo. I wish there was a museum that covered a bit about the tribe’s history; instead there was a little sign that talked about it.
We then drove to Yucca House National Monument, which was a wild goose chase. We drove through private property (on a county road as per the NPS instructions) to reach a barn that we parked in front of. The trail was ½ mile and looked pretty sketch. It was hot so Steve and I decided he would go first and then we would trade, while the other sat in the car with Sparky. Steve came back about 20 minutes later with quite the story. As it turns out, there wasn’t really much of a marked trail and it was rough going through the bush. He had a tough time finding what he was supposed to be looking for and after consulting the lackluster website, decided all that was left was ruins. Despite encountering a number of snakes, rabbits, birds and other wildlife and only seeing a few piles of stones, he returned back to the car less than enthusiastic about the visit. I decided to take his word and skip it.
Our next stop was Hovenweep National Monument itself! Hovenweep means “deserted valley” in Paiute, which is exactly what it is. It is a canyon filled with towers where Pueblo people lived over 700 years ago. Similar to Mesa Verde, the area was abandoned in the late 1200’s, for reasons unknown, although speculated that the resources went dry or possible internal strife in the communities. Today, the area is preserved and offers plenty of trails to explore the dwellings up close – dog friendly trails too! We first did the canyon loop trail to see the square towers. The loop was 1.7 miles and pretty mild. The towers were stunning. We drove to our next trails which included some off road driving – Holly Pueblo (.25 mile trail) and Hackberry (1 mile roundtrip). Both trails got us up close to ancient towers as well as great sights of the canyon. With daylight running out, we headed back to camp pretty tired from a full day.
Southwest Colorado was a lot of fun. I don’t see us returning anytime soon unless we were driving through. Next time we are in Colorado I want to go to Rocky National Park and Denver as we have plenty of friends and family that live there! We are so bummed we missed seeing them this time.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona