Playing Ancient Chutes & Ladders...
I've arrived in Cortez, Colorado ahead of schedule thanks to a couple of ladies in Bluff, UT. While in a cafe there, they were asking me about my route. They suggested I take a road through McElmo Canyon from Utah to Colorado that would cut 1 to 2 days off my planned route. My map showed this road as unpaved, but they assured me it was paved all the way and was the route locals used to go to Cortez.
This turned out to be a great route as there was very little traffic. Once into Colorado, the road follows McElmo Creek and is lined with ranches. Fields irrigated with water from the creek were bright green, in stark contrast to the hills above covered in brown scrub brush. There were many horses in the fields and one even ran along next to me as I passed, whinnying all the way. Maybe he was angry that I was riding a bike instead of a horse!
Since I arrived in Cortez a few days earlier than planned, I decided to take two days off from riding. I booked a guided tour of Mesa Verde National Park and figured I'd spend another day being lazy and relaxing.
Mesa Verde was wonderful! This park was the site of a major community of Puebloan Indians from 600AD to 1350AD. We were able to see their progression from small pithouses built on the mesa tops around 600AD to the huge alcove dwellings built into the cliffs of the canyon walls. Tens of thousands of people lived here at it's peak and then within a few years, the site was completely abandoned. The reason for their leaving is one of the mysteries of archeology.
The highlight of the visit was a ranger-led tour through Balcony House. Gaining access to the dwelling involved climbing a 32ft ladder to reach the 1st level of the structure. After that there were narrow passages (one that had to be crawled through on hands and knees) and more ladders to explore the different sections and levels before climbing back to the mesa top. It was fascinating to see adobe and stone walls that have been standing for a 1000 years, the ceremonial kivas, their living spaces, their tools and to explore their culture and beliefs.
Next up - tackling the Rockies. Wish me luck!