I asked them to say cheese. They were four tourists from Germany and they had hiked to the top of Park Point as well. I imagine they got at least a little bit of humor out of that - that's why I did it. They asked me to take a picture of them in front of the fire lookout. I imagine them saying, "the American man asked us to say cheese but we had left Wisconsin 12 days ago." Park point is the highest point in Mesa Verde National Park and in the summer months when the side road is clear you can drive almost to the top of the mountain. The short trail is wheelchair accesible and a great little hike for kids - offering views of four states. The turnoff is 10 miles past the park entrance on the main road to the visitors center.
If you are going to be in the Mesa Verde area and wondering what you might plan next, here are a few ideas.
1. Go over the Million Dollar Highway from Durango to Ouray, stopping at Silverton for lunch. Try the Handlebar Restaurant there and have some Rocky Mountain Oysters.
2. Stay overnight in Durango and go out to the Bar D Chuckwagon Suppers, Durango, Colorado --970-247-5753, reservation required. This supper with REAL cowboy singers is a true delight.
Below are two photos from the cowboy barbecue and one from the Million Dollar Highway.
Call the Ute Mountain Ute tribe at 970 565 3751 and ask for the Visitor Center for the Tribal Park. Make an appointment to visit their own park, just a few miles away. The visitor center is just southeast of Cortez CO, where the highway branches to go across the Navajo reservation. From there, at your appointed time, you go in your own vehicles with a ranger into the back country behind Mesa Verde.
You will see the ruins up close and personal. The ruins are just as they were when the Wetherills found the ruins where the national park is. Being in a small group, you will have a much finer time.
Pack your lunch. The picnic spot is gorgeous, but there are no facilities like a lunchroom.
Wear really good shoes for comfort, and since it's Colorado, wear layers. The weather can change quickly. The trails are unpaved but suitable for all ages.
Kids are welcome. They have a play area near one of the ruins where they can "discover" shards etc. Pets are not advisable.
Cortez is as pleasant a little National Park gateway town as you'll find. They have shops, restaurants, a Wal-Mart, and even a brewpub for the intrepid beer traveler. It's certainly not a place you would go out of your way to see and there is little doubt that without Mesa Verde National Park on its doorstep, few would make it to Main Street. But since it is there, it's a nice example of a small US town and perhaps of interest to foreign travelers in search of a slice of Americana. There are some interesting old buildings and if you're not camping in the park, it's likely you'll be staying here. Enjoy the easy going life and stop by Main St. Brewing for a beer.
When we began our tour in Balcony House, the guide told that on our way we might see colorful lizards. Well, we didn't see one, but inside of the house I saw a girl who took out of her handbag this green lizard (or any other name to this creature) and put it on the floor while her relatives took pictures. I decided she found one in the bushes as guide told, but then she explained that it was her own pet with whom she travels. Nice pet.
Why do I put this into Off The Beaten Path tip? Do you often see lizards that pop up from visitor's handbang? This is what I meant in my tip.
This single spot within the Navajo Reservation is the only place where four states touch (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah). The spot is marked on a shallow platform, and the flags of the various states encircle the spot. Unfortunately, a great number of jewelry stalls and other trinket vendors likewise ring the platform, and I've often wondered the effect of state sales taxes when shopping from one booth to the next.
Get your picture taken here on all fours. Make a wry face. Do something odd. There's no other reason for coming here.
Admission at the time of my last visit (May 1999) was $1.50.