Mesa Verde Country is a tapestry of ancient history and an area you don’t want to miss. Not only will you travel back in time, but also your visit will reward your senses in every way. Located in southwest Colorado, near the Four Corners region, Mesa Verde Country includes Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway and the Cortez Cultural Center.
Selected by National Geographic Traveler as one of “50 Places to Visit in a Lifetime,” Mesa Verde National Park is one of America’s greatest archaeological treasures and the country’s first World Heritage Site.
Lynn Dyer, director of the Mesa Verde Country Visitor Information Bureau, said that within the park are hundreds of sites that tell the story of the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in this area for more than 700 years, from about the year 600 to 1300. Six hundred of the more than 4,700 archeological sites in the park are cliff dwellings; others include mesa top pueblos, farming terraces, towers, reservoirs and check dams.
Once called the Anasazi, the politically correct term today is Ancestral Puebloans. Exploring this part of the globe could take hours, or days, or weeks, depending on the amount of time you’re willing to spend. For example, a day trip through the Ute Mountain Tribal Park will take you off the beaten path, and then some. Guided by Ute Mountain tribal members, this fascinating, though Spartan, adventure will expose you to centuries-old rock art that decorates canyon walls, and will reveal thousands of pottery shards, flinted stones, and dainty beads that still cover the ground.
RVers will especially appreciate the Trail of the Ancients, the only National Scenic Byway totally dedicated to archaeology. The 114-mile byway is the road map for visiting the major sites within Mesa Verde Country, including the Anasazi Heritage Center, Hovenweep National Monument, Galloping Goose Railcar and Museum, and of course, Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde, which is Spanish for green table, averages about 650,000 visitors annually.
The crown jewel of the park is Cliff Palace. This architectural masterpiece is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. Cliff Palace is 288 feet long, contains 150 rooms and 23 kivas (social rooms or church-like settings), was able to house 100-120 people, and featured an alcove that is 89 feet deep and 59 feet high. The amazing statistic, however, is that this structure was constructed continually from 1190-91 through 1260-80. Cliff Palace is also the epitome of balance: square/round; earth/heaven; life/death; and man/woman. While visitors today enter Cliff Palace by a convenient stairway, the agile original residents came down from the mesa top by means of hand-and-toe holds carved into the sandstone cliff. You can see the holds in the rock face as you climb the modern trail that leaves the site.
Other popular sites to explore within Mesa Verde National Park include Spruce Tree House, Square Tower House and Long House. The park has 52,000 acres of incredible country, and is home to peregrine falcons, golden eagles, deer, coyote, bobcat, bear and mountain lions. If you wish to visit the cliff dwellings, please note that this activity includes ladder climbing, and walking steep trails, both in and out.
By 1300 nearly everyone had left Mesa Verde. In fact, the entire Four Corners area that was the center of Ancestral Puebloan culture had been evacuated. Speculations are many as to why they departed, but historians point to an extended drought documented at the end of the 1200s as the probable cause.
The Ancestral Puebloans never took up the sport of golf, since it wasn’t invented then! However, golf is an option during your visit to southwest Colorado, specifically, the Conquistador Golf Course in Cortez. Laid out on 160 acres, this 18-hole par 72 measures 7,152 yards from the tips. Not only do you get the spectacular mountain views, you’ll also appreciate the reasonable rates, too. Park your RV just down the street at the Cortez KOA, which is a good base camp for golf and exploring the ancient ruins. Mesa Verde National Park is only a 15-minute drive. Owned and operated by the affable brothers Bernie and Shawn Bender, the Cortez KOA features plenty of RV spaces, tent sites and cabins. The pull-through sites can accommodate rigs up to 80 feet in length. There’s also a general store and heated swimming pool. The KOA is open from April 1 through October 15. For more information, visit www.cortezkoa.com; www.mesaverdecountry.com
The 19th hole (and a few chip shots)
For those heading to Palm Springs, California, this winter, start the New Year by getting your game on track in the inaugural Palm Springs Amateur golf event. The Jan. 7-10, 2010, event takes place at the La Quinta Resort and PGA West golf courses. What sets this event apart from other amateur events is the fact that golfers will be playing premium courses during the prime season with great weather. Average temperature in Palm Springs the first week of January is 74 degrees. This is the first week of the high season in the Palm Springs area and courses will be in pristine condition.
The 54-hole individual stroke play competition has an entry fee of $575 if registered before Nov. 30. Entries received after Nov. 30 will cost $625. As a special incentive to register early, the first 150 completed entries will go into a drawing with the winner getting a free luxury suite at the La Quinta Resort & Club for the duration of the event. Complete tournament details are available at www.palmspringsam.com.
Rick Stedman is an avid golfer, RVer, and writer who lives in Yakima, Wash. He can be reached at [email protected].