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Ever wanted to go inside and see up close one of those famous ancient cliff dwellings? Mesa Verde National Park has tours for 3 of them: Long House, Cliff Palace, and Balcony House. If you visit I highly recommend taking one of the tours-or if you’ve got time, do all 3! They’re inexpensive and it will get you up close with an amazing archaeological wonder!
You’ll have to pay to go on one of the tours for the cliff dwellings, but they’re very affordable at only $5 per person as of 2017. You can purchase them at one of these 3 places:
- Mesa Verde Visitor’s Center – which is right at the entrance to the park
- Colorado Welcome Center – located in Cortez, the town nearby
- Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum – located inside the park.
The tours run at specific times throughout the day, and also are only available during certain months of the year. For more information on hours and when they’re available, check the National Park’s website out here: https://www.nps.gov/meve/planyourvisit/tour_tickets.htm
Balcony House Tour
Since we were only at Mesa Verde for 2 half days, we only had time to take one tour, and we chose the one for Balcony House. Our tour started at 9am and we met in the parking lot of Balcony House located on Chapin Mesa. It was a fairly large group of around 20-30 people, and composed of people of all ages.
The only real challenge on this tour-and they do warn you about the difficulty before you buy the tickets, was that you had to climb a 32 foot(10 meter) wooden ladder, go through an 18 inch(45cm) wide tunnel, and climb another ladder at the end. So if any of that doesn’t appeal to you, you may want to try a different tour. As a reference on ability, there was a young couple with their daughters; one being a baby strapped in with a special child carrier backpack, and 2 others of around 5-7 years of age. There were also older people in their 60’s and 70’s on the tour. Everyone made it up the ladders just fine-so you don’t have to be in excellent shape or anything, just be able to walk and climb a ladder!
We started out walking down a long staircase and onto a path that followed the canyon below the mesa top. After a bit we came to the base of the cliff dwelling. This is the part where you have the big wooden ladder to climb! I have to say I was slightly nervous-but it was really easy. The rungs of the ladder were wide and you had plenty to grab onto. Two people were able to go up at a time, so if you have a partner with you and you’re a bit scared just climb up together! There’s no rush either, you can take your time as needed.
After everyone was up at the top, our park ranger guide went on to explain a lot about the history of the Ancestral Puebloans, how they built the dwellings, what purposes the different rooms and buildings had, etc. She was very friendly and knowledgeable. I have nothing bad to say about any of the rangers we met in the National Parks so far-they’re all nice and helpful!
We walked the whole length of the cliff dwelling, and there was plenty of time to get a lot of photos and look around. Some parts were off limits, but I really felt like they let you inside enough of it to get a good feel of the place.
After the tour of the cliff dwelling, we had one final ladder to climb. This one was not as wide so you had to go up single file. We said our goodbyes and thanked our guide once we were back up at the mesa top. The tour in total took about 2 hours, which could be more or less time depending on the group size. I really hope to return someday and take the other tours!
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