My DH and I took a quick long-weekend trip up to Colorado. We are thankful we have a camper/RV in these times of COVID because honestly, I would not go and stay in a hotel anywhere right now. Having the RV means we can cook/make coffee, have hot showers and a place to sleep that’s mostly separate from other people, which makes getting out of town a whole lot easier than trying to navigate other people potentially not vaccinated or not masked, or not any of those things. I had a lot of requests for pictures, so I’ll include a bunch here. It’s a beautiful part of the US. If you aren’t familiar with Colorado geography, Dolores is in the southwestern portion of the state, near the Four Corners region (where Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado all meet in one tidy corner). It is close-by (or close in western state terms) to Mesa Verde National Park, about 35 miles away.
We have been to Mesa Verde but hadn’t stayed in Dolores before. It’s a small town (population around 900), with one main street, and it’s kind of a gateway to the ski country (places like Telluride) and the sandstone cliff and ancient peoples’ country, so it’s really the best of both worlds. Not a ton of shopping or dining, although there is some of both, and next time, we hope things are settled enough we can go to the brew pub for taco Thursday, but not a huge deal for us since we took all our own anyway.
Saturday, we decided to head over to the Canyon of the Ancients visitor center. This is run by BLM, or the Bureau of Land Management, as opposed to being a National Park, but we were REALLY impressed at the excellent visitor center with loads of information, several good exhibits and they had a nice young paleontologist in the main exhibit to answer questions. He spent a good amount of time with us talking about pottery styles from the three main settlement periods. The visitor center has a nice, easy 1-mile round-trip walk that takes you to the Escalante Pueblo ruins and gives you an historical overview of the area from a geologic and historical perspective, with background information on the Northern Ancestral Puebloan culture (previously referred to as the Anasazi). There also were handy botanical reference signs – my personal favorite – and I learned several new-to-me plants, so that right there was a win. The monument itself stretches over thousands of acres of land. You can take an 80-mile or so round trip that takes you to a number of different archeological sites and we could easily have spent a week doing all of those. MUCH less crowded than Mesa Verde, and you don’t have to sign up for admission tickets either. The small (maybe 35-space) car lot was only a third full even after we had been inside for an hour.
We opted to head to two of the locations within the monument: Lowry Pueblo and Sand Canyon Pueblo. Sand Canyon is an interesting site which was partially excavated and then back-filled to preserve the structures. It’s built over a (now-hidden) natural spring and there is a central chasm where you can see many centuries of spring run-off has rushed through. The area was built up over time on both sides of the chasm, extending up onto the cliff tops. There is a self-guided tour through the woods with interpretive markers that allows you to pick out the shadow forms of the existing walls and buildings underneath today’s soil-line. This is a view looking west and slightly south from what would have been the outermost tower (there were 6, I believe) of the compound overlooking the canyon.
We also visited Lowry Pueblo and I have to say this location was my absolute favorite on our tour. It’s a small site, half of which is under a large metal roof to preserve excavated sections which they chose not to back-fill. Again, it’s a bit off the beaten path but we had the place almost all to ourselves (which NEVER happens at Mesa Verde). One of the amazing things about this site is that you can actually access the interior of the newer (i.e. 1100 AD or so) structures that are underneath the metal roof and look at the construction from the inside. It involves a little stooping and bending but totally worth it.
There is also a separate area showing a large kiva with the remains of structural supports which are believed to represent and align with north/south/east/west and the above and below. It was likely used for both religious and social/meeting uses at various times in its life.
It is amazing to be able to stand right next to the ruins – and they were all respectfully unvandalized, without graffiti or trash or other contemporary human leftovers.
The rest of the weekend, we did some driving up into the mountains to look at wildflowers and the scenery. We found a lovely alpine lake so the dog could indulge in her favorite pasttime of swimming (she is HARDY… the air temp was 67 degrees F and the water had to have been in the 50s…. brrrr) up around 10,000 feet.
The weather was absolutely perfect – sunny days, warm in the afternoons but cool enough for a fleece pullover in the morning hours. We also relaxed and read in the late afternoons at the campsite, and walked over to the Dolores River, which ran through the campground, to see the sights. The leaves are just starting to turn, so all of the cottonwoods have golden edges and it’ll be a beautiful fall array between those and the aspen in another month or so. We’re definitely planning on going back!