I’ve driven Highway 491 across the southwest corner of Colorado more times than I can count. Always on my way to or from Albuquerque or Ogden, an eleven- or twelve- hour drive depending on the offspring’s energy level. The road sign pointing to Mesa Verde National Park has always called to me but I’ve never been up to the detour. I’ve hurried on along, silently promising that one day I would head east instead of south at Cortez. Two weeks ago I finally made it and it was incredible!
The four of us piled into the car on a Friday afternoon and made the 6 1/2 hour drive down south. It was a bit bittersweet, as we were meeting my older brother and sister down there to say our final goodbyes to my father. Yet, as we headed out the excitement of our first family road trip of 2017 took over and the familiar miles along I-15, through Price Canyon, and past the red rocks flew by.
We stayed the night in Cortez. For less than half the price of staying at the lodge in the park, we got a breathtaking view of the Denny’s parking lot and a free continental breakfast. When I walked up to the reception desk the night clerk yelled, “Ogden! The Junction City!” Yep, this was my kind of place.
Saturday morning we drove the nine miles to the park entrance and then the remaining 500 miles to the ruins. Just kidding. It only felt that long because we weren’t sure exactly how long the drive was, so we kept expecting to turn a corner and see them jump out at us. It was only about an additonal 20-minute drive. That being said, this little drive was gorgeous. We were so impressed with the incredible views of the valley and the snow-capped mountains to the north. It was so clear we could see as far as Abajo Peak outside Monticello, UT – a good 75 miles to the west. Even the offspring kept oohing and aahing at the gorgeous views. And nobody got carsick!
After we met with the siblings and spread my father’s ashes the offspring and I adventured a bit on our own. The rest of the family had already been there a couple of days and had seen their fill of nature and ruins. My ex-husband had driven up from Albuquerque to spend the weekend with us and once we finally found each other (thank you to the non-existent cell service on top of the mountain) we started by hiking the Petroglyph Point Trail. The trail wasn’t difficult but try telling that to an out of shape 43-year old man and a toddler. We started out strong but right about the halfway point it got a little rough. The older kids and I handled it just fine. So worth it.
After wearing everyone out with the hike I was on my own to explore the rest of the points on our map while they napped in the car. They were troopers but not everyone in my family shares my limitless energy when it comes to adventure.
I’m so glad we got the opportunity to spend some time with my family, the kiddos got to see their dad, and we were able to explore an area we’ve wanted to for so long.
If you’re planning a trip, here are a few suggestions:
- Check with the park for any closures during the time you’re considering visiting. Unfortunately for us, half of the park was closed and not open yet for the season. Just another reason for a second visit!
- Pack a lunch and snacks. There are a couple of restaurants in the park but they are pricey. There are a lot of beautiful picnic areas to stop at.
- Plan on two or three days to explore, especially if you’re visiting with little ones and you want to see all of the sights.
- There is one lodge in the park but it’s not cheap. It does have gorgeous views and would save you driving time if you stay there. We stayed in Cortez and it was about a 30-minute drive into the park and up to the ruins.
- Between all of us, we had three different cell carriers and none of us had service for most of the time we were in the park. Be prepared for that.
- Pack plenty of water. Even when the weather is nice, there isn’t much shade and you don’t want to run out.
Most of all, remember that adventuring is FUN! Who cares if you see every little point of interest? Enjoy the beauty and the history of the area and soak it all in.