After spending the night in Cortez, CO and watching the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony (yay!), I got up super early the next day to get to Mesa Verde National Park when the park opened at 8am. Mesa Verde is really unique because it was named by Theodore Roosevelt to be the first national park to be established to “preserve the works of man”. A lot of people may not recognize the name Mesa Verde, but most will recognize the iconic cliff dwellings, which are the largest in the U.S.
My first stop was the Far View Visitor’s Center, which is where you have to buy tickets for any group tours you want to go on. Some of the cliff dwellings are free and self-guided, but the more famous ones require a tour and cost $3 per person.
The first tour I did was Balcony House, which one of the rangers described as an “11 year-old boy’s dream”. We met our tour guide, a nice lady but über chatty. Our tour went over by 20 minutes and we were almost lapped by the tour behind us because she would not stop talking about corn.
Our group followed the paved trail downward beneath the cliff we were just standing on. We then climbed a 30ft ladder up into the cliff dwellings. The majority of us flew through the ladder, especially the Navy Seal next to me, but a couple of people were not happy. Once inside Balcony House, we all marveled at the dwellings, the tiny little rooms, the giant kivas (round structures used for religious ceremonies), and the gorgeous views.
The unique and super amazing thing about Balcony House is that, unlike a lot of other cliff dwellings where you’re not supposed to really touch anything, here you have to climb through the dwellings to get from room to room. At one point we were all on our hands and knees, backpacks taken off, crawling through a tiny tunnel. I was grinning like a little schoolgirl 🙂
As you can imagine, to get out of Balcony House and back up to the parking lot, you have to climb once again. There are three 10ft ladders plus a very skinny path with chains as handrails. Considering what a klutz I normally am, it’s somewhat of a miracle I didn’t even fall, let alone hurt myself.
I have to say out of all the cliff dwellings I saw/toured on this trip, Balcony House was by far the coolest and the one you should go to if you only have time in Mesa Verde for one tour.