Mesa Verde National Park, CO – Life on the Edge with the Ancients

Great pics and stories from our trip to Mesa Verde National Park. Also includes our visit to Blanding, Utah and Utah's Bicentennial Highway.

Unusual rock formations line the road.

A deer says

A deer says "hello" at Mesa Verde.

We peer out over The Tower House, Mesa Verde Nat'l Park

The Tower House, Mesa Verde Nat'l Park

We take a closer look at The Tower House, Mesa Verde Nat'l Park

Stone masonry from sandstone bricks.

The Ansazi built round walls as well as straight ones at The Tower House, Mesa Verde Nat'l Park

They were as good at round walls as straight ones.

Communities are tucked under overhanging cliff walls.

Communities are tucked under overhanging cliff walls.

Looking closer in at Balcony House.

Looking closer in.

Mesa Verde was scarred by wildfilres but the cliff dwellings survived unharmed.

Above the cliffs is flat land -- some has

been burned by wildfires.

You'll need a telephoto lens or binoculars to see the cliff dwellings across the canyon at Mesa Verde.

A closer look at the buildings below.

The Ancestral Puebloans built split-level homes in caves along the canyon walls at Mesa Verde.

Split-level living with some buildings on a higher ledge

and others on a lower one.

The Cliff Palace is the biggest Anasazi ruin at Mesa Verde Nat'l Park.

Cliff Palace.

Here are a few of the rooms at Cliff Palace.

A closer look at Cliff Palace.

A tour group walks through the Cliff Palace ruins.

A tour group walks through the Cliff Palace ruins.

An above-ground structure at Sun Temple.

An above-ground structure at Sun Temple.

The Far View Sites.

Don't Touch!!!

No climbing -- unless you're a


There are beautiful fields and farm country between Colorado and Utah.

Landscapes as we leave Colorado and enter Utah.

We met a young, hard-working cowboy in Blanding.

The real deal.

Winter wheat at twilight in Blanding, Utah.

Winter wheat at twilight.

An old truck out back behind JM Welding.

An old truck out back behind Jack's shop.

Twilight in the fields around Blanding Utah.

What else to do while waiting for work

on the trailer - take photos!

The round plastic handle was becoming square.

An excellent welding shop that does awesome metal fabrication:  JM Welding in Blanding, Utah. What our hitch extension will look like.

The design.

Jack brings us the finished product.

Jack and the finished product.

Here's how our hitch extension works and what it does.

How it works and what it does.

Finished product.

Ta da!!

Photos from the Bicentennial Highway, Scenic Route 95 in Utah.

The Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 in Utah.

These are typical rock formations seen along the Bicentennial Highway, Scenic Route 95 in Utah.

Typical sights along the "Bicentennial Highway"

Here's one of many spectacular views along the Bicentennial Highway, Scenic Route 95 in Utah.

Scenic Route 95.

We spot a perfect boondocking spot.

"Oh oh oh oh -- it's perfect!!"

We're happily camped alongside the Bicentennial Highway, Scenic Route 95 in Utah. Views out our window from our boondocking spot on the Bicentennial Highway, Scenic Route 95 in Utah.

View out the window.

We have found one of the most amazing camping spots ever, on Scenic Route 95 in Utah.

No one for five miles in any direction.

Here's why we love RVing in Utah.

Why we love RVing in Utah.

Mesa Verde National Park & Eastern Utah.

Early June, 2012 - The mysterious cliff dwellings of Canyon de Chelly

National Park in Arizona had inspired us, so now we pointed our buggy

in the direction of Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park where another

massive cluster of cave homes lines the canyon walls.

We passed many

dramatic rock

formations on our

way, and we were

greeted by a deer

when we first

entered the park.

Mesa Verde is a vast park that requires a lot of driving on hilly twisty roads to

see all the sights.  We were surprised by the huge number of tourists crammed

into the Visitors Center, especially compared to the quiet and laid back nature

of Canyon de Chelly.  This is a park where you could easily stay a week or

more.  The place is packed with different cliff dwelling structures as well as

above-ground ancient Indian ruins.

We tried to get our bearings quickly and headed out to the

Square Tower house.  After driving some 10 miles or so

through the park winding along hill crests on curvy roads, it

was quite a surprise to walk down a short trail, turn a

corner, and find ourselves staring down at a beautiful intact


The little community stood tightly pressed against a back-sweeping cliff

wall.  The tower building was four  stories tall with a large window on each

floor.  But it all looked like a miniature doll house compound down there, far below our feet.

The buildings are made of sandstone bricks, each one about the size of a

loaf of bread, and they are mortared with a mixture of dirt and water.  The

Ancestral Puebloans - or Anasazi - built these structures around 1100 to

1300 AD, but sadly left no written documentation behind.

At the Mayan ruins of southern Mexico we had been shocked to discover

that entire dynastic histories are known in detail today, right down to kings'

birthdays, city-state conquests and squabbles for power.  However, at

these Indian ruins in Colorado we learned that very little is known with

certainty about the people who built and lived in them.

As we wound along the tops of the canyon walls, we were amazed to look

out across the narrow ditch and see all the tiny dwellings tucked into the

opposite canyon wall.  At first all we could see was the faces of the cliffs,

but as our eyes adjusted to spotting the cave homes across the way,

suddenly they become obvious in every nook and cranny.

The park offers inexpensive tours of most of the ruins, but we contented ourselves

with getting an overview of it all from the top rather than climbing down in.

When we finally reached the Sun Temple overlook, the best place

to view the magnificent Cliff Palace ruins, we were amazed by the

complexity and density of the buildings.  It was a complete town

nestled into a cave midway up a rock wall.

A tour group was passing through the ruin, and the tiny, brightly

colored people walking among the buildings gave us an interesting

perspective on this place.  This canyon and its massive rock

formations is immense and timeless.  But the people who built their

homes here stayed for just a few generations and filed through this

ageless place rather quickly.  Fortunately for us today, they left a

most unusual signature behind: uneven, jam-packed housing.

We learned that the

first people to settle

this region were the

Basketmakers who wove very fine

basketry and built pole-and-adobe

houses above ground starting

around 750 AD.  By 1,000 AD, just

before the Norman conquests of

England, they began building their

homes using stone masonry.

Interestingly, archaeologists say

their basketmaking skills showed

a marked decline once they

began to specialize in masonry.

It's intriguing to me that one skill rose while another

fell.  And isn't it still so true today.  We are all expert

at moving over ground at 60 mph but most of us

would balk at killing, plucking and carving up a

chicken for dinner, something our great-

grandparentss happily did years ago.  We have all

become so adroit with electronic and keyboard

technology, but gosh darn if we aren't all forgetting

how to spell.

We wandered among the above-ground dwellings

and hiked around the Sun Temple and Megalithic

house.  Like the Mayans at Bonampak who had

created an elaborate series of murals inside one

of their ruins but abandoned the building before

it was finished, here at Mesa Verde the Anasazi

had also abandoned their property before it was

totally completed.  It is baffling to ponder how a

society can reach such heights of sophistication

and then vanish.

Unlike the Mayan ruins, however, where today's

visitors can scamper all over every building at

will, we saw signs posted everywhere telling us

not to touch or climb on anything.

Rangers, of course, are excepted…

Somewhere in our meanderings through Mesa

Verde we realized that we had reached total saturation with seeing the ancient

dwellings of antique cultures.  We had seen some of the best of the best in the

last six months, and we were ready for a change of pace.

We left the Indians and Colorado behind and

crossed over into Utah, stopping at a gas station

to fill the truck.  From somewhere in the distance

we heard the clank-clank-clank of spurs coming

towards us, and suddenly we found ourselves

face to face with a cowboy.  Not a cowboy-hatted

urbanite donning the clothes and stance of his

country idol, but the real deal: a young,

hardworking cowboy who had just finished a dirty

week of cattle work.

When he started gassing up his truck, Mark struck up a conversation.  It turned out he'd been

ranching all his life and now commuted every other week between Ogden at the north end of Utah

and Blanding a few hundred miles south at the other end of the state, to work on a ranch.  He beamed

as he told us he had just found a house in the Blanding area so he could move his family down this

way.  "Heidi is real happy," he drawled slowly, his bright blue eyes twinkling.

We asked him if our planned drive along Route 95 would be okay with our big truck and trailer (we

had read something about 8% grades).  "Oh yeah," he said very slowly.  "It's a real pretty drive.

That's how I go back and forth to Ogden."  What a life: outdoors all day in some of the country's most

dramatic landscapes, and commuting to work on a National Scenic Highway.

Reassured that we would't be facing any gnarly

driving, we left the gas station and promptly

bottomed out the back end of the trailer on the

lip of the driveway.  Our brand new bike rack that

we both just love scraped the pavement loudly

and the truck ground almost to a complete stop.

Mark made a face at me, and we leaped out of

the truck to check the damage.  "We gotta fix

that!" He said nervously.  But we were both

relieved that there was no damage worse than a few scratches.  Our fantastic

new bike rack has been such a great addition to our travels this season, but it

hangs way out from the back of the trailer.  This was the fourth time we'd

scraped it hard on the ground, and the once-round plastic knob on the back

was becoming rather square.

We drove over to the Visitors Center and found an old fellow deep in conversation with

the lady behind the desk.  We asked if there was a good welder in town who could

fabricate something for a trailer hitch.  They told us that JM Welding just on the edge of

town by the airport would do a great job for us.

Still uneasy about the Scenic Route 95 ahead of us that was known to

be so beautiful but scurried diagonally across the Utah map as if it

were a cat chasing a butterfly, I asked the pair if that route was okay

for a big truck and trailer.  "Route 95?" the man said, "Why, I built that

road."  Turns out that the construction of this road, known as the

Bicentennial Highway, had spanned from the 1930's to 1976 when it

finally got paved, and this man, Ferd Johnson, had been part of the

team that built it.

"We all lived out in the canyons for two and a half years while we built

that road."  He said, telling us how rugged and wild and beautiful the

land was.  "There are three bridges crossing the Colorado river, and

those were tough…" he trailed off.  The lady behind the desk piped

up.  "I did the drive once with him," she said nodding in his direction,

"and he talked the whole way.  He had a story about

every mile of that road."

We left really excited to see this

scenic highway for ourselves.  But our

first stop was at JM Welding.  Jack,

the owner, understood exactly what

we wanted and said he could order

something like that and have it for us

tomorrow.  "Or I can build one for you

right now that would be better quality

for about the same cost."  Go for it!!

He grabbed a piece of chalk from his

pocket and drew an outline of a z-shaped

hitch extension on the shop's concrete

floor.  Within moments his son had cut the

pieces and welded them.  Jack powdered

coated it and cooked it for an hour while we chatted with Jed,

one of Jack's long-time customers who had just showed up.

"I'm really looking forward to driving that famous scenic Route

95 tomorrow," I said, making idle conversation.  Jed looked at

me blankly.  "Scenic road?  There's a scenic road out

here?"  I did a double-take.  "You know, that Scenic Route

95.  You take a right just a mile south of here…"  He

scratched his head.  "Oh, right…of course…oh yeah.  I

drive that road all the time.  It's pretty."

As we drove this magnificent road over the next two days,

our jaws dropping repeatedly at the stunning beauty around

us, we had to laugh.  Utahans live in some of the most

spectacular scenery America has to offer, but I guess after

a while it becomes an ordinary backdrop for their lives.

In no time Jack had finished our hitch extension

and Mark mounted it on our trailer.  Suddenly all

our fears of grinding our new bike rack into the

dust while boondocking down rough dirt roads


Next morning, after a peaceful

night parked out behind Jack's

shop where fields of winter wheat

waved softly in the twilight and

dawn, we struck out on scenic

Route 95.

From red rock cliffs to exotic

pink-and-white striped swirling

rock formations to dramatic

descents into vivid green valleys,

we drove with our heads turning


I literally hung

my whole

upper body out

the window a

few times to

snap photos at

55 mph.

The road swerved here and

there, curving deliciously

between cliffs and canyons.

Suddenly I saw a dirt road

scooting off to a wide flat

plateau.  "Oh oh oh!!!"  I

cried, not quite getting any

words out.  "It's perfect!"

Mark skidded to a stop,

squeaked out a u-turn and

drove back.  What a


Down the dirt road we went, bumping along to the most fabulous

and dramatic boondocking spot.  There wasn't anyone around

us for at least five miles in any direction, and we had the

canyon, the cliffs and the sky to ourselves.  That is the magic of

RVing in Utah.  50% of the state is public land, and you can

camp anywhere you dare to take your rig.  It was so beautiful we

stayed for a few more days before exploring Natural Bridges

National Monument.