Deep heritage: SW Colorado in late September
For five years now, Anne and I have traveled to the Southwestern US to spend our annual week’s vacation. These trips have centered on the canyonlands country around Moab, Utah – but for the past several years I’ve made a point of choosing a different starting point, where we’ll have a day or two to see something we’ve never seen before and (potentially) find new places to love before driving on to our favorite hangouts in and around Moab.
This year, as usual, we started by flying into Grand Junction and renting a car. Then, instead of heading straight west into Utah, we took backroads (141 and 491) leading south toward Cortez, CO – HQ for Mesa Verde and, more recently, gateway to the recently established Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
Our chosen resting place for the first two nights of our trip was Kelly Place, a B&B several miles out along a secondary county road from town. The owners of Kelly Place have built upon the area’s renown for archaeological wonders by gearing their establishment toward those with an interest in such things. The property backs up to the national monument, allowing hiking access into the park right from one’s front door, as it were.
Even without leaving the grounds, however, you can tour several ancient ruins (restored and not) at your leisure. There’s actually a prominent “cliff dwelling” (or perhaps a granary) within view of the lodge’s front porch. Pretty cool!
We spent a morning taking the walking tour of the grounds (featuring a pair of kivas, a ruined pueblo and historic pioneer buildings), then decamped to Mesa Verde National Park for the afternoon.
At Mesa Verde we enjoyed the long, incredibly scenic drive up onto the mesa and capped off the day with a walk to Spruce Tree House. The museum nearby has one of the best interpretive displays I’ve seen on Anasazi / ancestral puebloan culture, and includes an astonishing array of found pottery and other artifacts.
Front-of-mind during a visit to Mesa Verde is the sad history of recent forest fires that have periodically devastated the mesa top and surrounding canyons. Blackened sticks of trees are all that remain in several sections, though the forest shows signs of reestablishing itself. Nature carries on, at least in this part of the world.