We came to Mesa Verde on US 550 via Albuquerque and first found beauty in a spot enroute—Angel Peak Badlands Overlook. If you’re driving the same route, use your GPS to scope out Bloomfield, and when you get near it, look for a sign to the overlook. You’ll be on a dirt road that doesn’t look like much, but take it to the end—there you’ll look out over a vast and astounding landscape.

Mesa Verde—We fully expected to be treated to the sight of a great green table when we drove up, but that’s not the case. Our first stop was at the new Visitor Center, built in 2012. There, we showed our AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL Senior Passes to get in. This $10 lifetime pass is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over with documentation of age and residency or citizenship. We bought ours at Petroglyph National Monument, but you can buy them at many national parks. What a well-spent $10! For full information, search America the Beautiful Passes on the web. There you’ll find many options for visiting our national treasures.

We didn’t buy tickets for guided tours because we wanted to keep our schedule flexible, but my research tells me that if you plan to visit Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or Long House you need to purchase tickets first. We were able to enter Spruce Tree House (without touching anything, of course) without a ticket, but Cliff Palace was closed and Balcony House sounded like too much of a climb for me.  I’ve learned that Spruce Tree House is now closed because of dangerous conditions. I’m glad we were able to step inside it in 2015 and experience the wonder of a dwelling more than 700 years old!

Mesa Verde offers a look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, which are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.

Nothing prepared us for Mesa Verde—it is a magical and mysterious place. How to describe it? You can hardly go anywhere without coming across yet another dwelling place carved into the cliffs that surround it. And the great wide-open skies of the Southwest provide a glorious framework. We drove… and stopped… and looked… and found something new every time. Nearly every place we stopped, we looked across wide canyons to discover yet another dwelling tucked into a spot on the other side. We also visited several educational sites to get more insight into the people who once lived there.  

We stayed at Far View Lodge, and the park service describes it best: “Far View Lodge sits on a high shoulder of Mesa Verde… offering panoramic vistas into three states. It's simple here, quiet enough to hear the ravens fly by. No TVs. Nothing fancy. Absolutely beautiful. Peaceful. A place to linger and appreciate why people lived here for seven centuries.” We walked across the parking lot for dinner at the Metate Room at the Lodge—and found the restaurant well worth its good reputation. We had elk and it was delicious. Plus, the restaurant had one of the prettiest views we saw all day, captured in a quick stroll outdoors with my iPhone. 

Our schedule was adaptable, and although we had thought perhaps to stay another night, the weather turned sour on us, so we turned toward our next destination—Santa Fe.