Mesa Verde Trip: Four Corners and Yucca House

[Peter already chronicled his thoughts on our trip on The Colorado List, so check out his post on these two sites here!]

The second day of our trip was jam-packed – Canyon of the Ancients, Hovenweep, then lunch at Four Corners! After doing so many trips to national parks, visiting Four Corners was a shock to my system. It is the definition of a tourist trap. With lots and lots of grumpy tourists. Everyone just wants a picture of themselves at the four corners, so they have a sign up that reads “Only 3 pictures at a time”. Well, the group in front of us said: “I paid good money to get in here, so I’ll take as many pictures as I want!”. As if everyone else didn’t have to pay the entrance fee? Overall, not the greatest experience we’ve had. I suppose it’s just something you have to do while you’re in the area, but I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way for it.

Back to our national park spree – the most unusual place we visited was Yucca House. It’s near Mesa Verde National Park, and since we were running low on time, we switched our schedule so we could go there and stop by the Mesa Verde Visitor Center before the end of the day and spend the bulk of the next day at Mesa Verde.

Yucca House.

First of all, the directions from the national park service on the website seemed super sketch. They included going down a dirt road, turning when you saw a particular building, don’t leave the road because you’ll trespass, then park next to someone’s barn where you’ll see a gate to walk through to get to the site. And the drive to get there felt as sketch as we had anticipated. It wasn’t even clear exactly where to park since you were obviously parking in someone’s driveway! On the bright side, I guess this is a good example of private and public lands working together?

Second of all, the description that we read ahead of time does not do the site justice. We knew going in that it had been preserved as a national monument in 1919 and been left untouched since then. It was an Ancient Pueblo site that was never excavated.

“Never excavated”

That translates to “unidentifiable mounts of grass and dirt”.

Okay, okay, I know I’ve shown a lot of disdain for the place. Conceptually, it’s pretty cool to see what most of the other sites in the region (like Anasazi) looked like when archeologists first discovered them. It helps give scope to the reconstruction work that was done at Lowry Pueblo and Aztec Ruins, and it makes the fact that places like the Ancient Cliff Dwellings in Mesa Verde survived intact even more impressive. It would have been helpful to at least have signposts or a map describing what we were seeing. If you’re going to have plenty of time in the area, you might as well make the drive to visit it. Just be careful to not block the driveway!

For more information on Yucca House National Monument, you can visit the National Park Service Site.

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Mesa Verde Trip: Hovenweep

[Peter has already blogged about the entirety of our trip over at The Colorado List. You can check out his pictures and thoughts from Hovenweep here!]

Back in June, Peter and I did a road trip to the Mesa Verde / Four Corners region with an ai to visit 6 national park sites in the span of 4 days. The first was Canyons of the Ancients, and the second on that trip was Hovenweep. It’s across the border in Utah and many people pair it with a trip to visit Moab and Arches, so we were unusual in the fact that we weren’t coming or going from Moab. We had driven through Canyons of the Ancients to get there, so we weren’t going to be starting the hike to visit the structures at the coolest part of the day. Thank goodness for our water packs! (We had put one hiking/hydration pack on our wedding registry but someone gave us two – one of the most frequently used gifts! We wouldn’t be able to do nearly as much exploring without them.)

Again, due to a lack of time, we had to pick just one part of the national monument to explore, so we stayed near the visitor center and did a 2 mile hike in the Square Tower area. This hike would take us around (and down) a canyon that had 10 different structures from Ancient Pueblo people. The structures were so impressive. The detail, the angles in the walls, and the fact that has been so well preserved for hundreds of years. It’s incredible.

I first realized on our Great Sand Dunes trip that I am becoming a “park person”, or at least someone who dresses like one. Apparently when you dress in hiking pants, hiking sandals and you’ve got a hiking backpack on while at a national park, people will naturally assume you know what you’re doing and stop to ask you advice on the trail. Peter usually finds these interactions more entertaining than I do because 1) he actually is a park person and will probably become a retired volunteer at one if we live near one at that point and 2) I am such an introvert. I actually prefer to whisper him questions to ask the rangers rather than ask them myself. I know, I know, that’s over the top. But I just enjoy soaking up the area around me while being all wrapped up in my own head.

Whether you’re visiting the Four Corners region or doing a visit to Moab, make sure you take time to visit Hovenweep! You can get more information from the National Park Service.

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Mt. Evans Scenic Byway

Despite living in Colorado for several years, I have not attempted to climb a 14’er. I know that it is something everyone is supposed to do while here, but it seems like such a daunting task. And I honestly don’t even know where to begin to plan for such an endeavor. That’s all to say – not expect to be hearing about such a climb on this blog in the near future!

Thankfully, climbing isn’t the only way to experience the majesty of a 14’er. In Arapahoe National Forest there is the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway, a seasonal road that takes you to the top of Mt. Evans. It is the highest paved road in the U.S. and was originally intended to be part of the Peak to Peak highway connecting Long’s and Pike’s Peaks. They weren’t able to complete this road down the other side of Mt. Evans, so it is now a unique day trip road.

It is usually only open from Memorial Weekend to Labor Day Weekend, so we had to make sure to fit in a trip sooner rather than later. I will admit, I was a complete foolish tourist and forgot to pack a sweatshirt in the car. It’s almost as if I haven’t lived in Colorado for a few years now. That meant that the trip was not as extensive as we might have liked it to be.

The drive starts at Echo Lake then travels into Arapahoe National Forest (another benefit of having the “America the Beautiful” National Parks Pass – it covers entry to recreation lands!) One place that is a recommended stop along the way is the Mt. Goliath visitor center and trail that is maintained by Denver Botanical Gardens. There were lots of wildflowers in the area and some of the oldest bristlecone pines to admire, even without doing the entire trail (again, my tolerance for cold temps inhibited us).

The next stop is Summit Lake. It is around 13,000 feet in elevation and the setting is breathtaking. But I didn’t pay much attention to the lake because I was too focused on the herd of big horned sheep. They were right in the parking lot! About a yard away from me! They’re my favorite animal that I’ve found in national parks and I was as excited as a little kid at seeing them up close. The winding road continues up to 14,264 feet in elevation. Along the way, we spotted a pair of marmots and a trio of mountain goats greeted us at the top! We didn’t have a chance to do the trail to the very top because cloud cover moved in and we decided it was time to head back.

This was a fun drive to experience, so if you’re in the Denver area and have time, make sure to fit this into your summer plans!

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Mesa Verde Trip: Canyons of the Ancients

[Peter has already written about this entire trip, so if you’d like to see his pictures and read his thoughts, please check out his post!]

If you’ve missed the first two installments on Durango and the Anasazi Heritage Center, check them out!

The Anasazi Heritage Center serves as the visitor center for Canyons of the Ancients. We got recommendations from the park rangers on what to actually see with the time that we had. We had a great evening in Cortez (shoutout to the Loungin Lizard for being one of the best restaurants I’ve found in Colorado! The farm fresh food is absolutely delicious and the service was fantastic!)

The Canyons of the Ancients is an interesting place because of how much private land you drive through as you both get to the park and drive through the park. My poor Corolla handled its way over the gravel roads. We were not prepared for what to do when farm dogs run into the road and refuse to move away from the car. (Seriously, does anyone know what to do in that situation in the future? The park rangers did not prepare us for that!)

We finally made it to our first of two stops – the Lowry Pueblo. It was incredible. It was an expansive structure that had been added to over many years while it was inhabited. For the sake of preserving part of it, they had erected a metal covering and reinforced some of the walls. That meant you could actually walk inside! The temperature difference was drastic. No wonder people constructed the pueblos to be partially underground. It was very cool to get to see this site up close, which is why the rangers recommended it. Most of the time you can’t experience historical sites like this.

The second site we visited was the Painted Hand Tower. Apparently, if you climb to it at the right angle, you can see painted hands below it. We weren’t exactly prepared to do a climb, so we hiked until we could get a good view of the tower then wrapped up our visit there. We drove through the rest of the park to head t our next site – Hovenweep.

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A Weekend in NOLA

Two years ago, Peter and I got to spend our week-long honeymoon in New Orleans. It was a dream come true for me (and Peter planned it all as a complete surprise – all I knew was that I needed to pack for warm temps and high humidity!) We ate out at amazing restaurants, visited the Audubon Aquarium, had lunch on the steamboat Natchez, listened to a concert at Preservation Hall, took a hands-on cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking, and much more! It was a blast!

Thanks to a serious illness back in the fall, we had to cancel a trip and had refund credit with Frontier Airlines. There weren’t enough credits to get us back to New York, so we looked at where else it could take us – back to New Orleans! A very quick trip, just flying in on Sunday in time for lunch and leaving on Tuesday right after lunch. So we hopped on the plane to celebrate our second anniversary in New Orleans!

We didn’t plan any major events for the time we were there. We were surprised at how much we remembered from the first time – Peter still had the map of the city memorized (or at least the grid of all the major streets). It was a nice mix of going to familiar places and new ones. We ate at a few of our favorite restaurants from the first time around – Cafe Pontabla near Jackson Square, Commerce Restaurant (a fantastic diner for breakfast), and Sucre (the best gelato sundaes you will ever have). But we also walked through the French Quarter to different neighborhoods to find new places to eat. The highlight of that was finding “The Praline Connection” with incredibly delicious Southern cooking, and an amazing praline bread pudding for dessert.

We did lots of walking, despite the heat and humidity. Both Sunday and Monday we got close to 7 miles of walking (which was entirely necessary given the food we were eating). We explored part of Louis Armstrong Park. And for a very short time before our flight on Tuesday, we stopped by the Visitor Centers for Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve, and the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park. The Jazz HPS is an interesting place because it is the only NPS site in the country dedicated to the preservation of music, not land. They do that by regularly performing jazz music and by running a mentorship program where kids can sit next to experienced jazz musicians and learn to play by ear, the same way people have learned for decades.

It was a whirlwind trip, and we still have more on our list of things to do for the next time we can make it there. But we’re thinking it should be in the winter months instead!

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This was the location used for the exterior shots of Pride’s bar in NCIS: New Orleans

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This was the location used for filming the exterior of the office for NCIS: New Orleans

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Another exterior location from NCIS: New Orleans

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Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve

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Mesa Verde Trip: Anasazi Heritage Center

[Peter has already chronicled our visit on his blog The Colorado List. You can check out his thoughts on this stop here.]

After our stop in Durango, we made it to Dolores to visit the Anasazi Heritage Center – stop #1 of 6 at national parks. This center serves as the visitor center for nearby Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. It’s an interesting arrangement – we had never been to a park site where the visitor center wasn’t on the same land as the monument. It turns out that Canyons of the Ancients was able to be preserved by making many arrangements with landowners and farmers in that area over many years. That means there isn’t much leftover space to put a visitor center there! They also had another archeological find at the Anasazi Heritage Center site, which means you get to view an Ancient Pueblo dwelling up close after learning about it.

Peter and I have joked about how this trip was a deep dive into learning more than we ever thought we could about the Anasazi or Ancient Pueblo peoples. But growing up on the East Coast, we learned about our own local native ancient peoples, so it was interesting to learn about a “new to us” people group.

[Side anecdote: When we arrived, Peter was wearing a Buffalo Bills “Football is Family” shirt and I was wearing my white Bills hat. When the park ranger greeted us, he said “So you must be Bills fans?” We explained that though we live in Denver, we’re originally from Western NY. “That makes sense. Either that, or there was a big sale on Bills gear. So how do you feel about the Broncos?” Once again, we explained that there isn’t really a rivalry and we enjoy cheering on the Broncos “But you hate Tom Brady too, right?” Ah yes. Broncos and Bills fans can always bond over a common enemy!]

The Anasazi Heritage Center is a terrific place to start for anyone looking to explore the Mesa Verde area. The museum there is great in setting a foundation for what archeologists know about the Ancient Pueblo people and the artifacts are astounding. As the name suggests, the peoples in this area lived in partially subterranean pueblos to help cope with the climate in the area. They were extremely talented at creating pottery. And – this is one detail I don’t fully understand but was emphasized at every site – the influence of the southern Chaco people is seen in the T-shaped doorway.

At the site, there were two pueblos – one of them (called the Dominguez Pueblo) was excavated then backfilled to help preserve it. The other one was a short climb up a hill and was called the Escalante Pueblo. It’s incredible to think how long this building has survived.

For more information on the Anasazi Heritage Center, please visit the Bureau of Land Management website. Once again, I can’t emphasize how important stopping here was for setting the foundation for the rest of our trip.

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Denver Sports #6 – Colorado Rapids

In our continuing quest to go to at least one game of every Denver sports team, we’ve made it this far on the list:

  • Colorado Rockies (MLB) – multiple times
  • CU vs CSU (College Football) – not really professional, but it’s a pretty big deal
  • Denver Broncos (NFL)
  • Denver Nuggets (NBA)
  • Colorado Mammoth (NLL – National Lacrosse League)
  • Denver Outlaws (MLL – Major Lacrosse League)

That left two sports – soccer and hockey. If you read my post on the Denver Outlaws, you’d know that I appreciate sports where every play matters. And in my perception, that’s the exact opposite of soccer. We weren’t even going to try to go to a Colorado Rapids game because of the perceived cost to enjoyment ratio. But lucky for our checklist, Peter was able to snag relatively inexpensive tickets so I put my cynicism aside, and we went to the game!

The first thing that strikes you about Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (home of the Rapids) is how immense it is. Unlike the other teams which play in the heart of Denver, this park is in Commerce City and once you get there, you can understand why. The acreage of the place is incredible. There are so many additional fields outside of the main field. You can tell that it was built to be a place that could host entire tournaments. Walking through the parking lot, I discovered that people tailgate at soccer games. I was surprised by that for a minute, then I remembered that back in New York, people would tailgate before a Josh Groban concert. I guess you can tailgate before anything.

I have nothing to compare the stadium to because I’ve never been to a professional soccer game before. It’s a little confusing to find your seats with how the sections are marked. A couple pointed out we were in the wrong seats, but only because someone pointed out to them they were in the wrong section. And when we got to our correct seats – we had to ask other people to move too! The pregame announcers and DJ tried to get the crowd pumped up, but they were almost as unexciteable as Nuggets fans. I’m not sure if that’s generally true about soccer, or just the Rapids. They aren’t having a great season (according to the league standings). There was one loud and rowdy section that was being led by a shirtless man – it reminded me of one particular guy’s dorm at my undergrad (Shen Block for any other Houghton alumni reading this!). And the people closest to us, well, they showed up to the game rather wasted, continued to drink throughout the game, and had incredibly loud conversations about anything other than soccer. Most of the time they weren’t even looking at the field. I’m sympathetic to the fact it’s not an interesting game, but if you aren’t going to watch, why did you get tickets?

As for the game itself – I still don’t understand how soccer works. You get possession of the ball and you try to maintain it, but rarely do you actually try to score a goal. In the rare occasion that someone does attempt to score a goal, the crowd goes nuts…even when they don’t score. Effort is applauded (and they say Millenials are spoiled with inflated self-esteem?) And as an avid American football fan, I can’t get over how soccer players fake injuries. I understand that it’s somehow part of the sport, but really? At one point, two players collided – the Rapids player started to just get up and walk it off until he noticed the other player was on the ground, then he immediately dropped back down.

Probably the best part of the evening for me was when I realized that the goalie was Tim Howard. Even a non-soccer fan like myself loved getting to watch him play again!

In summation: if you enjoy soccer, I think you’d love going to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park to watch a game there. And if you’re like me and you don’t quite understand the sport, it still makes for a nice night out. But I think I’ll stick to football and lacrosse.

[And as far as the last remaining team in Denver – we have tickets to go watch the Colorado Avalanche in October with my in-laws!]

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Mesa Verde Trip: Durango

[Note: Peter has already written about this trip on his blog – The Colorado List – and I will share those links with my corresponding posts. Here is his Mesa Verde I post.]

Peter and I are working toward seeing as many national park sites within driving distance of Colorado as we possibly can. Peter is a genius at planning short road trips, and our major one for this summer was to visit the Mesa Verde region. During those few days, we wanted to visit 6 park sites – and make sure to get passport stamps from all of them! (If you haven’t heard of it, the “Passport to your National Parks” program allows you to collect cancellation stamps from the various visitor centers. It’s a fun way to keep track of where you’ve visited! We had to upgrade from the small passport book to the Explorer Edition because we were getting too full in the Rocky Mountain Region! To learn more, check out this link)

The first day of our trip included driving down from the Denver area via Highway 285 to make it to Durango by lunchtime. Peter usually does most of the driving while I handle entertainment options: audiobooks, National Parks Trivial Pursuit, sing-alongs with my custom made playlist, etc. It was going to be 6-7 hours with very few stops if we were going to keep to schedule for that first day. We did stop at one overlook which had a great view of the Collegiate Peaks.

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Once we made it to Durango, we had lunch at the Diamond Belle Saloon in the Strater Hotel, which has been in operation since 1887. We walked through the downtown area to stretch our legs, then poked our heads into the railroad museum attached to the Durango=Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway. You can actually see the carriage house and trainyard! The little kid in me who loved watching Thomas was really excited. After our break, we headed to the Anasazi Heritage Center – stay tuned for more on that!

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RMNP: Upper Beaver Meadows

Rocky Mountain National Park has quickly become my favorite national park site (and we’ve been visiting quite a few of them lately!) It was time to renew our “America the Beautiful” annual pass, and our air conditioner is not helping us beat the heat at all, so we went up to visit the park for a Saturday.

We had plans to do a different hike, but we ended up going to Upper Beaver Meadows and hiking around that area. While we were there, we got to see a wedding party get set up for the ceremony! It was a short and flat hike through the area, but we had the chance to see so many different wildflowers. I did get bit up by the bugs which proves that I’m that much sweeter than Peter.

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We decided to drive through the park for the second part of the day. We stopped first at the Alluvial Fan – an area created by a lake breaking higher up in the mountains, dumping rocks through the whole area. We drove up to the Alpine Visitor center by taking Old Fall River Road. This was originally the only way to get to that point in the park, but now it’s a seasonal one-way road. It doesn’t have the spectacular views of Trail Ridge Road but it was great to see a different part of the park. You primarily drive below the tree line, right next to the river. You even get to see a few waterfalls!

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We enjoyed a picnic lunch at the Alpine Visitor Center, which was the warmest it’s ever been when we’ve been up there! No sweatshirt needed! After our lunch stop, we decided to drive through the “back half” of the park to the Grand Lake entrance. I had never gone past the Continental Divide, and I was excited to see this part of the park. After stopping at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center we officially have national park passport stamps from all four visitor centers in RMNP!

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Fourth of July in the Mile High (City)

Last year, we opted to do the local celebration of fireworks not on July 4th, so this year we went to the opposite end of the spectrum, hopped on public transport, and went to Mile High Stadium to watch the Denver Outlaws play a lacrosse game then stay for the fireworks afterward. We were able to get two things off of our bucket list – seeing another Denver sports team and watch one of the downtown fireworks displays.

Lacrosse was a huge sport in upstate New York but I was never a fan of it growing up. But I really enjoyed watching the Colorado Mammoth play earlier this year, so I was excited to give outdoor lacrosse another chance with the Denver Outlaws. They’ve had a great season, so it looked like it would be a good game against the Boston Cannons.

I have to admit, watching the game increased my appreciation for the sport. In my rankings of most enjoyable sports to watch, so far it goes American football, indoor lacrosse, outdoor lacrosse, basketball, with a much lower tier of enjoyment including baseball and soccer (and I really, really dislike soccer). I haven’t seen a professional hockey game yet, so that sport is TBD. Watching the Outlaws play made me realize that I enjoy a sport where there is purposeful action. Every play matters. There’s only 3 downs to get 10 yards. You have to watch the shot clock. Baseball has very little action with it being dominated by pitching, and in soccer, there’s no pressure to make a play. Of course, the millions of baseball and soccer fans will disagree with this assessment.

Watching the Outlaws was a blast! They dominated the field in all aspects. Sure, it didn’t make for a competitive game, but they didn’t back off, even when they cleared had the game secured. But the highlight was probably the halftime show. They had dogs doing frisbee tricks! Best halftime show ever.

The fireworks afterward were simply amazing. There was a digital intro, having various artificial intelligences (Siri, Cortana, etc) arguing with each other, with other bonus cultural moments – like the AOL instant message guy popping in. The display was beautifully executed, pairing nicely with the music and visuals on the big screen. I felt like one of the kids in the movie “The Sandlot” – I couldn’t take my eyes off of the sky. If you ever find yourself in the Denver area on the 4th of July, get yourself tickets to this great event!

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