Today we packed up the condo and left around 10, heading southeast for Colorado and Mesa Verde National Park. We added this stop to solve our 15-hour drive home dilemma. Fifteen hours was just slightly too long. We've done it before, but have found 12 to be the perfect max- you leave before breakfast and arrive at your destination in time for dinner- so we decided to drive 3 hours to Durango, pausing at Mesa Verde NP along the way, chopping those extra 3 hours off at the start of the trip and leaving a nice 12 hour drive home tomorrow. Plus Mesa Verde is awesome and I have strong and wonderful memories of stopping there with my family as a kid.
(I love Cora's gaze here; she loves her "Yaya" SO MUCH)
(I also love that Landon is wearing his Canyonlands Junior Ranger badge, a new permanent accessory)
It was a relatively short 2 hour drive from Moab, particularly since we managed to restrain ourselves from pulling over to climb into one last arch while leaving Utah (you pass them along the side of the road like they're no big deal; Utah is ridiculous). There was a ton of conflicting information online about what tours would be open this time of year at Mesa Verde, so we decided to just wing it. And it's a good thing we didn't have any expectations because basically everything was closed. Normally Spruce Tree House is open in March and you can explore lots of cliff dwellings up close and personal, but due to a falling rock hazard, it's currently closed so we had to satisfy ourselves by looking from a distance.
It's still pretty incredible. And since the tours inside Cliff Palace and Balcony House are closed until April- and Cora isn't old enough to climb the ladders to get to them- we already knew we'd have to come back one day, now we just have even more incentive. It was still a fascinating tour back through time to 1-1300 AD. The kids picked up their junior ranger activity books at the visitor's center- they were very well put together and really challenged the kids to ask questions of the rangers on the trails and pay attention in the museum in order to fill in the answers.
We learned about dry farming, questas, kivas, gathering water from seeps, and the theories on why the cliff dwellings were abandoned in the 14th century. The dwellings are amazing- over 120 rooms in Spruce Tree alone, some dwellings 3 stories high, and many so well preserved in the cliff that the original floors remain. If you're ever in the area, particularly in April through October, go visit. I got to climb into the dwellings when I was a kid and remember the experience vividly.
And even if trails and tours are closed, there are a bunch of lookouts and a whole self-guided tour through preserved pit houses and pueblos you can tour in person at any time.
And there are great viewpoints into the cliff house dwellings.
We made the long drive back to the visitor's center and park exit (it's about 45 minutes back to the museum and Sun Temple dwelling), stopping so the kids could collect Junior Ranger badge #3. They took another pledge, this one slightly varied to include respecting different cultures and learning about the history of our country. My National Park loving heart just bursts in these moments.
I'd read a lot on the travel forums that the drive in Mesa Verde is pretty intense. It wasn't too bad- we've driven on much scarier highways in Colorado, but it is long and some of the grades are steep enough to make you shift your engine into a lower gear on manual, and some of the switchbacks are pretty tight. But for the most part it's just a nicely paved 2-lane road in the mountains.
Or so I thought until Landon mentioned his stomach felt "funny" on the way back and I realized I was getting dizzy while typing out a swim school email for James on his phone (it's his busiest time of year; there has been a lot of dictating emails on this trip). I've never been motion sick in my life, but I did eventually have to put the phone down and concede that maybe just once this combination of quick increases and decreases in altitude (more than 2,000 feet up then down), lack of breakfast, failure to hydrate, and an hour of reading/typing on a tiny phone screen MAYBE didn't mesh well.
We got to Durango and checked into our hotel and poor Landon, who has also never been motion sick before and usually reads books in the back corner of the car by the hour, curled on the sofa like a little shrimp and lay there for 45 minutes while James sat in the car typing emails with a Cora who had just fallen asleep in her car seat. Normally Landon needs to touch and explore every inch of a new space, but we thought maybe he was just tired from the long week.
We headed into downtown for dinner, eating at a fantastic restaurant (Carver Brewing Co- delicious!), and drinking pink raspberry wheat beer (also delicious! and I normally hate fruity beers), and nagging Landon for not eating any of his cheese pizza. As we were walking out, he looked alarmed and said, "I think I'm going to throw up!" - thank god we happened to be standing next to the women's/family bathroom, so I shoved him in and he just made it, promptly throwing up more volume than could possibly have been contained in his body, poor kid. James and the girls continued on for ice cream while I rubbed his back and told him I was so sorry for trying to make him eat his dinner.
So we returned to the hotel, barely getting to explore adorable downtown Durango (but secretly maybe relieved that we couldn't), and put on pj's, turned on a movie, and all snuggled in our beds. The kids thought that was amazing, Cora in particular, and we turned the lights and TV off at 7:50 and everyone was asleep at 8. And so I sit and type in the dark and try not to sing to my songs out loud.
Tomorrow we drive our last 850 miles and return to the flat lands of Fort Worth and pick which National Parks to tackle next!