Durango, CO / Mesa Verde National Park

Days 8 to 11 (August 6-9)
Durango/Mesa Verde

I’ll have bittersweet birthday in Durango.  Perhaps a history hike can shake us out of our funk.

Working our way toward Colorado, we stop at the phenomenal Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, west of Taos on Hwy 64.

The Mighty Rio Grande Gorge Taos
Rio Grande Gorge. So deep!

While we are walking across the bridge, a couple spot Robert’s Tennessee flag socks and come over to introduce themselves. Native Tennesseans, they now live in Durango and gush over how much they love it. Everyone seems to gush over Durango.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge West of Taos
Rio Grande Gorge Bridge West of Taos

Our high-elevation drive takes us through stunning rural northern New Mexico.

Looking toward Chama Valley New Mexico
Overlooking Chama, New Mexico

Cattle graze on the green mountains. The Chama Valley is particularly lovely.

High elevation cattle grazing near Chama New Mexico
Oh hello, happy mountain cow!

Yet when we arrive, I am not really feeling excited about Durango for various reasons. The unexpected loss of a friend back home puts us in a melancholy, contemplative mood, and the sky is thick with smoke and haze from wildfires. That being said, the Durango KOA where we stay is a perfect oasis, and I highly recommend it. The pool and super-clean bathrooms are a treat after five days of pit toilets and no shower.

On my birthday we walk around downtown, have a nice lunch and a beer at Steamworks Brewing Company, and later a beer at Carver Brewing. We buy a couple of books from Maria’s Bookshop and wander in an outdoor store. Robert snags a sweet Cat Deisel hat from Old Colorado Vintage, perhaps the best vintage clothing store ever. Downtown Durango is very pretty, and under different circumstances I think we would have enjoyed it more. We didn’t even take pictures in town.

We do not hike in Durango. The city is parched, it’s definitely the driest air I have ever experienced in my life. The hills are drought-stricken brown and uninspiring, but I (later) finally understand the love for Durango when we leave the city limits and drive north into the San Juan Mountains (more on this in my next post).

View from the highest point at Mesa Verde National Park Vista
View from the highest point at Mesa Verde National Park Vista

We road trip to Mesa Verde National Park, where we hike the Petroglyph Point trail (awesome!)

Petroglyph Point Trail at Mesa Verde National Park
Petroglyphs at Mesa Verde National Park

We also take the guided tour of Cliff Palace.

Overlooking Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park
Overlooking Cliff Palace
Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde is a must-see if you are anywhere near the area, but do allow a full day or more to experience it. The drive up to the mesa top takes almost an hour, and you will want to have adequate time to explore.

Hiking (Climbing) back up from Cliff Palace

The new visitor center – at the bottom of the mesa – is an architectural masterpiece. The old visitor center that was part of the Mission ‘66 project to update National Parks facilities is closed and awaiting restoration. It’s a mid century gem atop the mesa, and I do hope the park is able to raise the funds to do something with the building. Mesa Verde is the highlight of our time in this area.

Smokey Skies at Mesa Verde
Hazy skies at Mesa Verde from a wildfire burning inside the park

One day we’ll come back for a Durango do-over when the air is clearer and the summer is wetter.  I’m sure it’s a great city and worthy of further exploration.

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