Updated: Nov 13, 2018
It’s amazing how quickly landscapes can change. Almost immediately after crossing from Utah into Colorado, we traded red rocks and dusty mountains for fields of lush green with sweeping grey rock mountains in the distance. We pulled over to catch some incredible cloudscapes and then jumped back on the road to make our goal of Mesa Verde National Park. We were really tight on time. We knew that. We also knew that the park was up the top of the mountain, with the main attraction being cities built into the rockface many thousands of years ago.“Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 to preserve and interpret the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from 600 to 1300 CE. Today, the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States” (NPS.org). It is something to be seen by day. But…we didn’t.
Alex and I can be stubborn and we were on a timeline. We were seeing Mesa Verde today. It was scheduled. When we started up the mountain, it was still light and we thought we’d make it by dusk. However, the site we had found to visit is literally on the top of a very curvy mountain road that takes about an hour to climb. After a mis-turn, that actually got us in the path of some beautiful grazing wild horses, we finally made it to the mountain top and pulled over in the pitch black. Both of us have police-grade flash lights so we used these to navigate down a tiny path and shone our beams out across the cliff with blind hope. Nothing. Trees. But, mostly nothing. Then, I saw it. Across the divide was another cliff and just below it was a whole town just carved into the rock. I can’t put into words how incredible this place was, even in full darkness. The fact that people were able to carve buildings into a rock thousands of years ago is unfathomable to me. What tools could possibly have done that then?
We set up our cameras and got a couple of long exposure shots that don’t do the site any justice. Then, we began the long and precarious journey back down the mountain. Once we reached the bottom it was about 10pm and we had nowhere planned to stay. The magic of the internet to the rescue again. I jumped on Airbnb and searched nearby, finally finding an airstream that a couple was renting out just beyond Durango, Colorado. We stopped briefly in Durango to get gas and find anything that might be open for food. We even met a deer just hanging out in a parking lot. I’d love to go back to Durango when things were open. It seemed like a very cool little down but at this hour, McDonalds was our only option. I’m not a lover of fast food, but even I didn’t turn down an order of fries after hours without food. This was not our best planned day by any stretch of the imagination.
We drove out past Durango into rural Colorado and made our way to our Airbnb. Too tired to do anymore shooting, we learned how to turn on the water in the tiny airstream, brushed our teeth and then passed out. We had another long day tomorrow, heading to Alex’s grandfather’s house in Golden, Colorado and visiting my friend Britany in Colorado Springs along the way.