Mesa Verde National Park

We recently visited Mesa Verde National Park, which is in the Four Corners Region of the United States but most of the park is in Colorado.  It is the largest archaeological preserve in the US. Created in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, there are more than 600 cliff dwellings within the park’s boundaries.  We purposely waited a few years so my youngest would be old enough to climb around to all the archaeological sites.  It was awesome and my kids loved it!

Cliff Palace
Cliff Palace

We toured Cliff Palace, which is the largest cliff dwelling in the United States.  It was built by Native Americans archaeologists believe from 1190-1260 AD. Discovered in 1888 by 2 cowboys looking for cattle, Cliff Palace is the most visited site in Mesa Verde National Park.  The building was partially collapsed but archaeologists have since restored it.

Balcony House is another cliff dwelling we visited. This one is only accessible via tall ladders (hence the waiting for my son to be old enough to climb).  It has 40 rooms and is considered a medium sized cliff dwelling.  Like Cliff Palace, Balcony House was in ruins until restored and preserved by the National Park Service in the early part of the 1900’s.  The ladder climb leading in and out of this dwelling was the highlight for my kids!

Standing in these structures, one is awed by how these early peoples lived.  The climate is dry. Little rain falls.  The cliffs are accessible only by climbing up and down.  One wrong move and you fall over the cliff.  But inside the structure, it is cool and protected from the elements. Archaeologists do not know why the cliff dwellings were abandoned or exactly when but at some point the peoples moved on probably around 1300.  They kept no written records.  Maybe drought or other weather conditions contributed as well as an increased population.

After the cowboys publicized their discovery of the cliff dwellings tourists began to arrive. These “curio seekers” took away artifacts and destroyed some the of the ruins in order to sell ancient antiquities.  This violation led to the Federal Antiquities Act of 1906 that made it a crime to remove artifacts from archaeological sites.  Many archaeologists believe much was lost during this 15 year period that could have been used to understand more of the people here.  In fact, many of the artifacts from Mesa Verde are in Europe, in museums, or in private collections from those who sought to make a profit at the expense of the sites.

Balcony House Inside
Balcony House Inside

Long House, another cliff dwelling which we did not visit, can also be toured as well as Spruce Tree House.  Tickets can be purchased for ranger-led hikes to other cliff dwellings as well.  Pithouses are located right off the roads as well as views of other inaccessible cliff dwellings.  Most of the major sites have kivas, which are ceremonial pits inside the dwellings.  The drive is fantastic as it’s mountain terrain with wide views of the surrounding landscape.

We camped inside the park at Morefield Campground, just 4 miles from the Park’s entrance. We hiked around and saw tons of deer walking through.  Some hiking trails are available, including one that  leads to petroglyphs.

We had a wonderful time and would highly recommend the park.  Educational for the kids.  Fun all around. Outdoors.  Enjoying Nature.  Marveling at God’s glory.  And what man does with God’s gifts.

Yessons from Yellowstone…

1)  If you drive around, they will come.  We saw all of these just off the road (except the two bears fighting over food.  That was at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone–an awesome not-for-profit wildlife and educational center that provides homes for bears and wolves unable to be in the wild–most having become accustomed to human food.  See full review HERE).

2)  NOT having cell service is a good thing.

3)  Every gift store is different.

4)  You can really appreciate the beauty of God’s world in Nature.

5)  Cameras these days are so much better than those of old.  Judge for yourself from the images below:

Explanation on photos for those curious:

The first one is actually in Thermopolis, WY, where there are thermal hot springs as well just like in Yellowstone (part of the same underground geothermal area).  I couldn’t resist the cloud formations.  Beautiful!

My daughter actually took the photo of the Mastiff Geyser sign.  She couldn’t resist since we own two English Mastiffs.  It was an ode to them!

The geyser is Old Faithful.

I can’t say enough about the Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center.  Please see my full review HERE.  If you are looking for a wonderful animal center to support, look no further.

The buffalo (proper name is bison) have the right of way in Yellowstone.  This guy walked right by us on the road.

The deer are black-tailed deer–quite rare in Wyoming.

This white wolf was a loner and we saw him two days in a row.  The buffalo nearby completely ignored him, not threatened in the least by a single wolf.  I kept wondering what his story was…

I’m assuming the two black bears were a pair of recently-weaned young (a year or so old) but we didn’t stick around long enough to find out.  We were extremely close.  When you’re in Yellowstone, you know there’s a bear or a moose or something rare by the number of cars alongside the road.  We stopped here because of just such a scene.  We crested a hill and right in front of us was this pair!  We snapped a couple of photos and got out of there!  Everyone else seemed to be hanging out but I’m not one to be a bear snack!

Outside of Old Faithful, the other geyser pictures posted are from Norris Geyser Basin.  We stopped at others but I liked these the best.

Like all the other animals we saw, the moose was standing in a river right by the road after you entered the park from the West Yellowstone entrance.  Eating contentedly despite the crowds.

The camera I used was a simple Sony 12.1 Mega Pixel Cyber-Shot.

Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

I can’t say enough about this place.

Located in the beautiful small town of West Yellowstone, Montana, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is an awesome not-for-profit wildlife and educational center that provides homes for bears and wolves unable to be in the wild–most having become accustomed to human food or orphaned as cubs.

They run educational programs year long.  According to their website, their mission is:  “to provide visitors to the Yellowstone area an opportunity to observe, learn, and appreciate grizzly bears and gray wolves.”

Keeper Kids Hiding Bear Treats!

But the reason we visited was for their Keeper Kids program (I have to admit). This is where kids ages 5-12 (I was disappointed my 4 year old couldn’t do this) get to hide food for the bears.  The bears are rotated in their outside enclosure in order to give them a break and so the guests get to see all of them.  So in-between a rotation, the kids hide snacks (mainly fruit), which the bears find (assuming the twenty or so crows who have nothing better to do than steal the bear food don’t find it first).

My girls LOVED this.  Randy, our guide for the day, did an introduction to bears beforehand and then took the kids back to hide the food.

Our favorite is 101.  She’s the 101st bear who was tagged in Yellowstone over 30 years ago and lived in the wild until recently when she became accustomed to human food through human error.  She adjusted slowly to being in captivity but Randy informed us she is doing much better.

While there, we got to see 101 and Spirit get into a tiff over the snacks (see photo below).

101 and Spirit “discuss” who gets the fruit!

Randy told us they like to mix up the bears who socialize together as stimulation but there are definitely bears who do not get along.  We didn’t get to find out which ones as he was distracted by other questions and we had a long day ahead of us in the park (which included our moose and grizzly sighting!).

They also have 2 wolf packs on the premises (these guys were sleeping while we were there but I did capture this picture while this guy got up to change positions!) and raptors.

Where Should I Go Next?

Inside, they have a great “museum” with stuffed bears (most of which were killed illegally) and informative displays as well as a well-stocked gift shop.

I would definitely recommend this place.  It is well worth the entrance fee and we will definitely go back if we are ever in the area.  I like supporting causes and I find nothing better to spend my money on than animals who need help for whatever reason.

Other fun pictures from our day:

I believe this is Sam, the largest bear at the center.
“Does life get any better than this?”
Does a bear get more gorgeous than this?