I have a slight obsession with big American Trucks….
Our travels took us to the South West of Colorado, driving over mountain passes – as high as 10,000ft at one point, past isolated ranches with a couple of horses and a few cattle, past an alpaca farm (we fell in love on the spot!) and past endless sunflower fields.
After being surrounded by pine trees for the first week, we really noticed when the trees suddenly disappeared and a relatively barren landscape opened up before us.
We stopped off in Ridgway for lunch at the True Grit Cafe, named after the John Wayne film that was made in the area. It is decked out in cowboy paraphenalia with a cowboy outfitters next door. We sat out front and ordered the bean soup, which was surprisingly delicious and satisfying. I would recommend a stop there if you are in the area. The staff were super friendly too.
As we drove further on, the scenery changed again to rocky cliffs. This is something I really noticed on our travels. A four hour journey would always take us through very varied landscapes, which made the journeys so fascinating.
The second property we stayed at was in the small town Dolores. Colorado. I believe the area is popular for river sports and hunting and as a base for exploring the Mesa Verde National Park (along with Cortez and Durango).
Our animal loving, vegetarian daughters felt very at home in the property, despite the stuffed lynx with a bird its mouth on the entrance wall and all the Elk hunting magazines. There was a lot of outside space to play their fantasy games and there was even a hammock to lounge around in by the river.
Inside was also spacious, which was just as well as it rained and thundered on our arrival and the morning of our first day there (to my eldest daughters dismay). We spent the first day at home, as mentioned in my previous post, playing board games and working on crafts. By the time the weather had brightened up, the girls were fully absorbed in a game of Pippi Longstocking, having ‘devised’ a car on one of the beds,
They continued their game outside once the weather improved. They had a fantastic time and it was lovely to see them playing so well together.
Pippi Longstocking is such a great story – it really captures childrens’ imaginations – oh how amazing it would be to be your own boss, in control of your own life, doing all kinds of unsensible things, being superstrong and independent and having so much money that you can spend it on any extravagance! A child’s fantasy! 🙂
All children love the idea of the free range childhood of days gone by, when it was safe to go out all day long without your parents knowing what you had been up to (before cars and health and safety!). I am so glad my children at least have our quiet road to roam in and the local park when they feel braver.
Anway back to Dolores!…
The girls made friends with the neighbours dog ‘Butter’- we think she is a Chihuahua- Jack Russell cross. She was delightful and came to visit us several times a day – By the end of it, I think we had all fallen in love with her sweet friendly nature.
On our first night, my husband and I just happened to go out to get something from the car and were awestruck by the night sky. The sky was ablaze with stars. As there is no light pollution in this area, the stars felt so radiant and close and there were just so many of them twinkling brightly above us. It was a special moment, one we would never experience at home. A real blessing.
On our second day, we travelled to the Mesa Verde National Park (20 minutes drive from Dolores), home to the ancestral Pueblan tribe from around 550AD to 1300AD. The site was re- discovered in 1889 by the rancher Richard Wetherill whilst searching for stray cattle and was made a National Park in 1906 to preserve its archeological heritage – which includes 5000 archeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings.
Our first stop was the relatively new Visitor Centre (which only opened in 2012 – the last time we visited was in 2003), where you can buy tickets for tours to visit the Cliff Dwellings, see various exhibits and generally orientate yourself before entering the Park. The entrance fee to the Park in the summer months is $20 for a car and is valid for 7 days.
There are two Mesas – the Chapin and the Wetherill Mesas. I would recommend visiting the Mesas on separate days as there is a lot to see. We all wished we had stayed longer as we loved immersing ourselves in the history of the area and imagining how the Pueblans lived there.
Our friends had suggested a tour of the Cliff Dwellings as you only get a real feel for their size and position when you are in them, but my youngest didn’t like the idea of climbing the long 10ft ladders or crawling through tunnels on her hands and knees (!), so we chose to drive the Top Loop on the Chapin Mesa instead, which was actually great. We got to see the earliest pit houses and also to view the later Cliff Dwellings from afar. It is a good option if you are only there for the day or if you have mobility issues.
It took around half an hour to get to Chapin Mesa from the Visitor Centre. Our first stop was the Archeological Museum. We really enjoyed exploring the museum and watching the short video about the ancestral Pueblan people, their life and why they eventually left the Mesa around 1300.
- They started as “Basketmakers” around 550AD, using their weaving skills to make baskets to carry water, store grains and even to cook with. They farmed beans, squash and corn and were mainly hunter/gatherers, using stone, wood and bone to hunt with. They lived in pit houses, clustered into small villages on the mesa tops and cliff alcoves.
- In 750AD, “The Pueblo period”, the tribe started building their homes above ground, constructing them from poles and adobe, and building the houses one against the other in curving rows. There were still some pit houses which were later used as kivas (ceremonial rooms). With time, the ancestral Pueblans perfected the bow and arrow and became better hunters and the women became skilled pottery makers, creating all sorts of pots to store food and water in, as well as cups, bowls, ladles and cooking pots. The pottery was also traded for other items that they needed.
- In 1000AD, stonemasonry took over from the adobe constructions: instead they built houses with thick walls two to three story high that were joined into units of 50 or so rooms. In this period the Pueblans started farming the Mesa top land.
- By 1150 thousands of people were living on the Mesa Verde. Many lived in small villages in close proximity to each other with kivas and courtyards as an integral part of the village. The walls of the homes were plastered and all the work had become more refined in this period including the pottery work, which typically included intricate black and white designs. These beautiful pots were used for ceremonial puposes as well as being traded.
- In 1225, many people moved into Cliff Dwellings in the cliff alcoves. They ranged from one room houses to 150 room community centres, including Cliff House.
- By 1300, after 24 years of drought, the whole tribe had left the area. It is unclear why, but they are known to have moved South to New Mexico and Arizona.
After our interesting museum visit, we walked over to view Spruce Tree House, which is usually accessible on foot, but was closed due to safety issues 😦
The Top Loop road took us to several pit houses and remnants of early villages,
We enjoyed finding out about the underground Kivas (ceremonial places), which were entered by a ladder through a hole in the centre of the roof.
Kivas were orientated to the south and were used for various social gatherings including ceremonies. Each had a fire pit with a ventilator and an air deflector and an entry point for the spirit world. We noticed how they became better made and larger with time to accommodate, we imagined, more villagers.
The Top Loop also took in a vista of the Navajo Canyon
and a view of Square Tower House, one of the Cliff Dwellings, where we saw an archeologist at work.
We were told that archeologists can only access the area using the hand and foot holds that the Ancestral Pueblans carved into the cliff face!
We also enjoyed distant views of the Cliff Palace and Balcony House,
There was also a Sun Temple on the Loop, but that was closed to visitors.
The Top Loop is 6 miles long, so is very manageable in an afternoon. There is plenty of information on the history of the area and we felt that we got a real feel for how the Ancestral Pueblans would have lived. I highly recommend a visit as it is such an fascinating place. I would love to enter the Cliff Dwellings next time. 🙂