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24 Hours of Adventure in Mesa Verde National Park

History meets desert beauty at the Four Corners.

By: Christin Healey + Save to a List

Editor's note (June 2021): As reported at nps.gov, Mesa Verde National Park is open and reservations are not needed to enter the park. The campground, park bookstore, and most roads, sites, and trails are open. However, services are limited and the Museum and Visitor Center remain closed.

At first glance, Mesa Verde National Park is unassuming. There are no jagged peaks, no raging rivers, and no cascading falls; but dig a little deeper, and this gem has so many layers of history and beauty to uncover. 

Located near the Four Corners, with views of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado all around, it's classic high desert at its finest. We arrived in the middle of the night after a long drive from Boulder, greeted by blankets of stars that shone brightly in the sky. Everything was silent save for the occasional rustle of an animal scurrying about, and we knew we were in for discovering new wonders. 

The sun rose far in the distance, illuminating all the rock and canyon walls below, flooding the landscape with that golden morning light. After hot coffee and pancakes, we met our guide and set off to tour a few of Mesa Verdes' 600 cliff dwellings. Our first stop was the Step House, a short stroll from the Wetherill Information kiosk. This is a great option if you are short on time or haven't made reservations, as it's a free, self-guided tour. After taking in the history of this site, we got our nature fix in by hiking nearby Nordenskiold Site No. 16, a two mile round trip trail that gives you some insight to what a fire can do to this area. The 2000 Pony Fire severely burned this area, so beware there is no shade if you are hiking during the summer. 

After a picnic lunch, we set out for our tour of Long House. Long House is spectacular. Appearing as if out of nowhere from the side of the cliff, it gives you a true feeling of what life was like for the people who lived here. It's a 2.25 mile roundtrip hike, just keep in mind you are at 7,000 ft so bring plenty of water (only plain water is permitted here). Be sure to purchase tickets in advance for this tour as its ranger-guided only. 

As the light started to fade from the sky, we hopped in the car to take in one last view of the park. Without a doubt, Park Point has the best views of the park and surrounding areas. Hit it for sunrise or sunset and you can see for miles and miles in every direction. When the last light faded from the overview, we headed down to  Far View Lodge for an amazing meal, complete with local wine and brews. If you're looking for history, unparalleled desert beauty, and low crowds, Mesa Verde is worth the trip every time. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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