In line with our ruins tour, we headed over to Mesa Verde. First stop in the morning, though, was at the World's Best Visitor Center in Cortez, CO. A volunteer named Bill was the most helpful guy ever - he knew all the roads we were planning on taking across Utah, he offered us the coffee he made, told us a bit about Mesa Verde, let us use their computer. It was a one stop shop. The road up to the cliff dwellings was a nice ride and moved along okay, which was good because we had scheduled two tours at noon and at 2. We had a bit of time to do some exploring before hand though, including the Spruce Tree House where we were able to drop down into a reconstructed kiva.
After exploring around the museum and Spruce Tree House, we headed out to the parking lot where we ran into Ken and Eric, 2 riders out from GA for some exploring. We chatted with them for a minute and wished each other well. They were even nice enough to point out my latest piece of lost hardware (thankfully only a license plate bolt and wing nut). Eric, give a shout if you find us here!
We toured the Balcony House first, which was cool because we were able to walk through a lot of the ruins. It was smaller, but had some sections that were in amazing shape.
There were some fun aspects to the Balcony House tour, including the tunnel...
...and some ladders for Jill to conquer her fear of heights.
The views from all over the park were stunning.
The second guided tour we took was of the Cliff Palace, one of the largest cliff dwellings in the Americas.
We were lucky to see it in the afternoon when the sun was shining through lots of the doorways and windows.
There were many more kivas and a lot of examples of the masonry that were in excellent shape (with some NPS touch-ups, but very few major reconstructions).
We bolted out of the park just after the tour, aiming towards Blanding, UT. Mike made the mistake of following the GPS directions instead of trusting our good Visitor Center friend Bill. We ended up heading north on the more major highway (GPS default) which was heavily trafficked by trucks, up on a plateau, and super windy. The alternate route would have been much better from what we could see to the south - mesas and cliffs, and smaller roads. Not noticing the difference until 5 miles out of town, we pushed on instead of doubling back. We ended up at a nice campsite in Devil's Canyon between Monticello and Blanding, but learned a lesson - get lost first, then turn on the GPS navigation.