I didn’t really know what to expect when we set off for Colorado. It’s not one of the states that is particularly iconic, at least in my mind. Our destinations for the day were Durango and Mesa Verde National Park.
We didn’t get long in Durango – just a couple of hours for an extended lunch stop – and as such I didn’t really get much of a feel for the place. A few of us opted out of the food kitty sandwich selection (the limited choice of cheese or ham was getting a bit dull by this point) and wandered around until we found a brewery/pub that Ben had recommended called Steamworks. The main focal point inside was a huge steam powered brewing machine (no idea if there’s a technical name for this!) behind glass walls, and the smell of brewing beer among the smell of the food. We opted to sit outside as it was a nice day and we wanted a view of the gorgeous moutain scenery. The food here was pretty good and certainly a relief from the boring sandwiches back at the minibus. It was all pretty standard pub grub but everything had a bit of a South-Western twist to it. I ordered a green chile quiche with a side portion of the soup of the day – carrot and lime. It was unusual but definitely delicious!
After settling up, we spent our final half an hour wandering around the town. Durango is most famous for its historical railway, but unforunately there wasn’t time for us to visit the museum to check it out. There WAS a really cool concert going on on a “Jazz Train” carriage in the station, so I hung around to listen to the jams for a bit before heading back to the bus.
We headed onward to Mesa Verde National Park. The scenery surrounding us was mountainous yet green that struck me as starkly beautiful. We stopped briefly at the Visitors Centre to learn more about the park, which at one time was home to several Native American tribes including the Puebloans. More on them later! After wearing out the exhibits (and the free wifi!) we got back on the bus to head to our campsite. There were hundreds of huge deer dotted about as we drove through to camp, and Ben again warned us that there were several bears in the park as well as mountain lions and coyotes. (Starting to sound like the start of a song from the Wizard of Oz….Lions, coyotes and bears – oh my!).
After we set up camp, we headed down to a ranger talk which gave us the full lowdown on the dangers of camping in bear territory. We were NOT to keep any food products in our tents overnight – opened or unopened. He also said it was a good idea to keep any scented toiletries in the trailer just in case they attracted the bears. Apparently the bears can smell the food from miles away and there have been cases of them raiding tents, camper vans and even cars to get to it. Obviously this is less than ideal as it’s not only dangerous to be that close to a hungry bear, but once the bears associate humans with easy meals they continue to approach camp sites in the hope of scoring free food and often have to be euthanised. It’s in nobody’s best interests (especially not the bears) so it’s best to follow the rules, even if it is a bit of a pain.
After an uneventful night in camp with no bear attacks (despite the fact that I accidentally found my entire New Orleans Cooking School souvenir pack in my bag the next day which included a full container of PURE CINNAMON SUGAR – stupid, stupid Emily!) we packed up the tents and headed up to the camp entrance where we indulged in a pancake breakfast! It was allegedly all you can eat but these pancakes were so gigantic I couldn’t eat more than 2, topped with bacon and proper maple syrup and washed down with a Swiss Mist hot chocolate. That must be how they make their money. They were still super tasty though.
The destination of the morning was to the renowned Puebloan Cliff Dwellings of Mesa Verde. The Puebloans were a Native American tribe who lived in Mesa Verde as early as 600AD. They used to live atop the flat lands of the Mesa above the cliffs but for unknown reasons – possibly the arrival of other tribes – the Puebloans moved into dwellings they built into the sides of the cliffs around the year 1200AD. These dwellings were accessed by using hand-and-foot holds the tribesmen chiseled into the cliffsides – where one misstep would lead to a long drop and a sudden stop. The Puebloans eventually abandoned these cliff dwellings around 1300AD, due to deforestation and overhunting of the big game that lived in the Mesa, but the climate of Colarado preserved them perfectly so we can get a feel for how it was to live there even today.
Luckily, due to the cliff dwellings now being a massive tourist attraction, the National Parks service has added access paths and ladders so that visiting tourists don’t have to risk their lives clambering down the dangerous footholds like the Ancient Puebloans! It’s still a little bit scary to climb up the ladders but it’s all pretty safe and after an introduction from a park ranger we were led up to the main dwelling. It was pretty spectacular to view even from above before we got down there, but being in the “village” was surreal and other worldly. I found myself imagining what it must have been like for the tribe to live there – particularly for the children and young people. How did young mothers cope climbing in and out of the village with young babies? At what age would children have to start learning to climb themselves? The rangers told us that no human remains have ever been found at the bottom of the cliff, which would suggest that none of the Ancient Puebloans slipped and fell (even after one too many smokes of the peace pipe).
After our brief tour and a few snapped photos, we had to move along so the next tour group could experience the cliff dwelling. We climbed up a few more scary ladders to get ourselves out onto the surface of the cliff, celebrated our climbing success and headed back to the bus. We were headed out of Colorado and into our next state – Arizona!