At the base of the mountain just a few miles east of Cortez, Colorado is the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park. We headed in to the visitor's center to find a map of the park and see if we could learn anything prior to our tour. The displays were fairly limited and we still had a lot of questions about how and why the Pueblos were built the way they were.
We drove into the park and climbed about 2000 feet to the first overlook.
The Knife Edge was at about 8200 feet overlooking the Montezuma Valley. The sign was pretty faded so we couldn't get all the story but it appears that that spot was the original road into the park in the 20's and 30's. It didn't even look like a good foot path from where we stood.
You can just barely see the remainder of the old road below the Knife Edge rock.
We continued to loop around and into the park looking for our next stop called Far View.
There were several structures in the area that had been excavated to show the Pueblo villages and a reservoir where they stored water.
This was the mesa top, farming community. The reservoir was rock lined and the water there was used in the five villages that were in the area where they did their farming.
From Far View we headed to the Cliff Palace. We hiked down the trail to the overlook where the tour starts. Looking back under the cliff where we had parked, we could see into the Cliff Palace. It was discovered by two cowboys on the hunt for their cows (seems like this is a recurring theme...) in 1888.
This is the largest cliff dwelling in North America and 800 years ago it was bustling with activity. Estimates are that 100-120 people lived here at one time. What amazed us even further was the height above the creek bottom that the dwelling sat and the fact that they had to climb in and out of the cliff dwelling to get to their farm ground on top. They had hand and toe holds in the sandstone cliffs that they used for access. We laughed at the fact that our selfie seems like we weren't actually there. It doesn't look real but it definitely was!
Another cliff dwelling that usually has a self guided tour was the Spruce Tree House. It was closed at the time because rocks had started to fall so we weren't able to see much of it other than peeking through the trees.
We wound our way out of the park for 25 miles and headed back toward Cortez with a lot of unanswered questions that I'm researching now. With another "wonder of the world" tucked under our belt, we headed out again with Four Corners Monument in our sites.
I had to stop and hug the giant Hereford....
Just south of Cortez we entered the Navajo Nation which is the largest reservation in the United States. We could see more giant solitary rock structures and miles and miles of desert that stretched out in front of us.
When we reached Four Corners Monument there was a Navajo arts and crafts market set up with jewelry, pottery, bows and arrows, you name it! We headed to the center of the monument for a picture. I took one for a couple while they stood in all four corners and they did us the same favor. Weebeast added yet another state to his list as we toured the market booths in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah. Naturally, we all left with something turquoise!!
For the next few hours we drove across the Arizona desert, through towns that dotted the map along the highway headed for the Grand Canyon. We drove through the town where the Code Talkers came from. Cattle and horses dotted the range and there were more giant rocks similar to what we had seen near Moab. No shortage of interesting things to see and comment on!
The Painted Desert was amazing even in the mid afternoon sun and flashed its pinks and purples and reds at us as we drove by.
We were running short on daylight with several miles yet to travel and the promise of a Best Western at the Desert View in the Grand Canyon National Park. Or so we thought....