Unfortunately we didn’t have a whole lot of time to explore Colorado, yet we wanted to visit a site quite unlike any other we’d visited in the USA. Mesa Verde, or Green Table, is a National Park which used to be home to the Ancestral Pueblo people. There’s over 5,000 archeological sites here, and around 600 cliff dwellings, which is what we’d come to see. Dating from between 600 and 1,300 AD, the sites were eventually abandoned for unknown reasons, however it’s believed that population growth and scarce resources led to the inhabitants migrating south into New Mexico and Arizona, becoming the modern day Pueblo people.
Almost nothing is really known about why they built these cliff dwellings and why they were eventually abandoned, so it’s interesting to take one of the tours and listen to the guide tell you what they do know, what they think they know, then ask you what you think. The tours also allow you to get down into the ruins and walk through parts of them. We had hoped to be able to visit Balcony House, the most adventurous of the tours involving a lot of long wooden ladder climbs, however it was closed for the season. Cliff Palace was the next best option and we were able to get tickets on the day for only $4 each.
This tour still required you to take a couple of steep wooden ladders to return to the top so at least there was a slight thrill involved. Totally worth the time and money, it was a morning well spent and we left feeling we’d really learned something about the ancient people and cultures here who are so often overshadowed by the Hollywood/Western/junk food eating/gun toting images of America today.
Before leaving town, we hit up another first for the trip to ease the hangover pains from last night – Burger Boy Drive in. There’s just something so fat, lazy and American about driving up to a burger joint and being served a calorie overloaded meal without having to leave your car. The caramel shakes here are worth every penny.
Another unique yet not so historical or educational site in the vicinity is the Four Corners Monument. The only place in the US common to four state corners, the site is located on Navajo land and your $5 per person ‘donation’ goes towards helping the local native communities.
For your money, you get the rewarding privilege of standing in (or in our case lying down across) four US states at once – Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. It’s a bit of a gimmick but it’s still pretty awesome, and there are plenty of handicraft for sale if you’re in a shopping mood.
But be mindful that this isn’t the place to spread your loved ones ashes if they so happened to request it. You’ll notice from the quite adamant signs that local tribal beliefs forbid this on any native land, as they treat death and dead bodies differently than western cultures, avoiding them as much as possible and even abandoning or destroying houses in which people have died. The fear is not of death itself, which they view as a part of life, but that the spirits of the dead would return to visit the living, something which is to be avoided by following strict burial methods. So don’t join the group of three idiots who’ve gone and dumped ashes here anyway, upsetting the locals while they’re at it. Nobody wants to be that guy.
Cruising across more desert highway through non-descript backwater towns, we finally arrived at world famous Monument Valley, backdrop of more American Westerns than you can poke a stick at. This place is what comes to most peoples mind when you mention the American west, and for good reason. It’s totally iconic and striking red rock buttes, worn down by millenia of wind and rain are a site to behold. Arriving too late to take the valley drive we hung around for some sunset shots, watching the colours change every couple of minutes, before heading over to the closest town of Goulding, where we parked up at the back of the local gas station for the night.
You can check out more of our Utah and Arizona photos on our Flickr page here.