- Sand Canyon Trail
- Rim Trail Loop & Tower Point Loop trails
We drove back up north from Santa Fe, NM to Dolores, CO. Our first day in Delores was spent setting up at the RV campground and grabbing dinner. The place we picked for a meal, Loungin Lizard, had phenomenal internet, so we were to download a couple of movies and shows while we ate! (Internet access in RV parks can be pretty abysmal, something we were not privy to before we started this trip.)
Our second day was spent touring the beautiful Mesa Verde National Park! The area was occupied by the Ancestral Puebloans from around 550 AD to late 1200s AD and many remnants of their vibrant communities remain. Early dwellings consisted of pit houses, built into the ground with timbered roofs. The later homes were multi-story built with stone masonry and contained multiple rooms with circular central gathering areas called kivas. Some of the best examples of the cliff dwellings are The Cliff Palace and Long House, along with the Balcony House, Spring Tree House and Far View sites. Ranger-guided tours weren’t available due to the pandemic but the visitor’s center and park map gave a good amount of history. The best way to see the park is by driving the Mesa Top Loop Road, which winds past many overlooks and archeological sites. It takes about 45 min-1h to get to the majority sites along the Chapin Mesa, so plan accordingly!
On day 3 we visited the Hovenweep National Monuments in the Canyon of the Ancients. It’s about a 30-45 minute drive west of Cortez., CO. Canyon of the Ancients is considered the most archeologically dense area in the nation! The dwellings in Hovenweep date to the mid 13th century, when the Anasazi, or Ancestral Pueblo people moved from the mesa tops (where they farmed) into the canyons. The Horseshoe Tower, Square Tower Group, Twin Towers and Hovenweep Castle are some of the structures found in Hovenweep. Mysteriously, by the late 1200s the Anasazi suddenly left the region for New Mexico and Arizona, leaving the dwellings dormant for the next 700 years. We took the Rim Trail Loop and Tower Point Loop trails, which brought us past all of the major sites at the park. Great day trip!
Our fourth day brought us back to the Canyon of the Ancients. This time to the Sand Canyon Trail. This was such a neat hike! The trail starts up a smooth rock face to reveal arid desert and red canyons. The trail snakes through the landscape and is dotted with archeological gems. As you hike, spurs (labeled by white posts) take you off the main trail to the dwellings. It was such a treat to be able to see them so up close. The trail is about 7 miles long and took about 3-3.5 hrs to hike.
We spent day 5 relaxing around the RV! We’ve found that packing in activities everyday can get to be a bit much, so we always appreciate an off day. We got a couple more groceries and made a great dinner.
We took a day trip across the Colorado border to the amazing Oljato-Monument Valley in Utah. It’s located within the Navajo Nation’s Navajo Tribal Park and was about a 2 hour drive from Cortez CO. The area glows with gigantic red sandstone buttes and mesas that have been the backdrop to western classics and other Hollywood favorites. The area was pretty unknown, except to the Ancestral Pueblo people (Anasazi), until director John Ford started filming in the area (Stagecoach, Rio Grande). The scene where Forrest Gump decides to stop running and turns around to go home was filmed here. We absolutely lucked out on our drive into the valley when we saw a station wagon pull off of Rt 163 onto a side road. It looked like fun, so we followed! We had turned off onto Valley of the Gods Rd, which took us into… the Valley of the Gods! It was an incredibly fun road with beautiful mesas and vistas at every twist and turn. The road is about 9 miles long and puts you right back onto Rt 163. We wouldn’t have found the road without that station wagon, so thank you! Valley of the Gods is definitely a must if you visit the area. We continued on Rt 163 to Monument Valley’s Tribal Park Loop, which takes you to all of the major sites. It was just as I imagined from the Road Runner cartoons. Vast open spaces with dramatic buttes and mesa rising majestically from the ground. The valley is best seen with a driving tour and can be done in about a half a day. There’s also multiple areas that can only be accessed with with a Navajo tour guide, including Mystery Valley, Teardrop Arch, and the lower Monument Valley.
Monument Valley and the Valley of the Gods was the best way to end our time in southwest CO! The number of historically and archeologically significant sites in the area is AMAZING! We’re so glad we added this to our US tour. Our next stop is going to be a little different for us. We’re headed up to Telluride CO and will be staying off grid. Wish us luck!