By Joshua Berman
Special to The Denver Post
MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK — The evening began simply enough, with a desert-red sun flaring brightly as it disappeared below the long horizon. Instead of fading, its light lingered and seeped over the landscape for what felt like hours while I stood on my room’s balcony, leaning against the rail and watching ancient pastels float and shift across the sky.
I was at Far View Lodge, a hotel 15 miles inside Mesa Verde National Park. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a property so perfectly situated. There are 150 rooms, built in clusters on a shoulder of the mesa, all with balconies — with vistas into four states. I’d originally planned on pitching a tent at Morefield Campground, but our family had been tent camping for nearly two weeks by the time we got to Mesa Verde. I wanted to give them direct access to the cliff dwellings, the rock-built homes of the Ancestral Puebloans that have made Mesa Verde both a UNESCO World Heritage site and a unique cornerstone of the National Park System.
I wanted to be close enough that it would be easy, say, for my wife to spontaneously grab the girls after dinner and hike down to one more dwelling.
So after savoring my steak with southwest flair at the Metate Room Restaurant, I helped buckle everyone in for the five-minute drive to the trailhead, then retreated to our room to watch the show.
As clouds continued to scuttle across the darkening sky and a family of cottontails grazed beneath me, I tried to imagine what my wife and girls thought of this sublime sunset while scrambling among the mysterious old walls and kivas. What will my daughters remember of this evening? What will they remember of this road trip summer? Or will it all blur together, our whirlwind tour of Colorado’s National Parks, hot springs, campsites and playgrounds?
On the “700-Year Tour” that morning, while the other tourists admired the pit houses and dwellings, I watched the concentration on my eldest daughter’s face. She was focused on filling out her Junior Ranger booklet to earn yet another badge for her hat, but there was something else there, a spark I had never seen before. At Cliff Palace, the most iconic and largest dwelling in the park, Ranger Beth Dodd reminded us that the Ancestral Puebloans “would not say this is a ‘ruin.’ They would say it is a place of ancestral spiritual power.”
As we climbed out, my daughter turned around and looked down the ladder at me. I don’t know how much she understood of the archaeological explanations, but the look on her face was one of pure adventure and exploration, and I certainly recognized the power in that.
Joshua Berman is the author of the upcoming fifth edition of “Colorado Camping,” which will be released in the spring. JoshuaBerman.net and twitter.com/tranquilotravel.
If you go
The autumn months are a quieter, cooler time to visit Mesa Verde National Park, but get there before the lodge and campground closes in late October. Stay at Far View Lodge (150 rooms, $129-179 per night). Morefield Campground has 250 sites in a desert landscape ($29 per night). Details on both at visitmesaverde.com.
This article originally appeared in The Denver Post on August 28, 2015.