Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

< Previous | List | Next > From Moab to Durango via Canyonlands' Needles Overlook and Mesa Verde National Park

Overlooking the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park on a cloudy day We left Moab after 9am, briefly stopping at the nearby (in)famous Hole N''The Rock tourist trap and then deciding we weren't falling for it. So we headed on, south on Hwy 191, before taking a right turn to Needles Overlook. This was a 42mi detour, and would probably have been worth it had the weather been better. As it was, the sky was heavily overcast and the views of the canyon below were kinda hazy and dull-colored.

Somewhere along the way, possibly near Cortez, CO, we stopped at a "Classic Denny's" for lunch, and I had a memorable strawberry shake as dessert. Memorable, because it was so large that on its own, it would already have fed me for the entire day.

Mesa Verde National Park is located about ten miles from Cortez. From Highway 160, a narrow road takes you up about 1500 feet to the main views. Instead of stopping at the various viewpoints, we pressed on towards Far View Visitor Center to still be able to get tickets for a ranger-led tour - only the smaller cliff dwellings can be visited on your own.

Some of the dwellings of "Step House" in Mesa Verde National Park Since the tickets we were able to secure were for a tour fairly late in the afternoon, we first drove Wetherill Mesa Road to Step House. Step House was a short hike down the Mesa, and on the way up we were joined by a ranger I had a nice chat with. Half of the year, he's working as a park ranger, the other half travelling. I wish I was able to do that. Wetherill Mesa had been struck by a forest fire the previous year, and black charred trees and floor, as well as the distinct smell of burnt wood were still all around.

We drove back over Wetherill Mesa Road, and then drove towards Chapin Mesa, home to Spruce Tree House and Cliff Palace, among others. Spruce Tree House is the only larger cliff dwelling that can be visited on your own, all the others only being accessible by ranger-led tours.

It started raining while we were exploring Spruce Tree House, but fortunately the slight drizzle didn't last long. At 18:00, we assembled at Cliff Palace for the last tour of the day. Even though it's unpleasant to follow a group's pace while hiking down to Cliff Palace, it was still interesting to hear the ranger's explanations and stories about what life must have been like for the Mesa Verde People all those centuries ago.

Around sunset, we headed on towards Durango, where we were staying for the night.

Written October 20th 2002 in Luxembourg.

Motel/Hotel Accommodation: Rodeway Inn (Durango, CO): $89.10 plus 9.5% tax