Continued from Southern Colorado Road Trip – Day 6
After a magical train journey through a winter wonderland on the previous day, on Day 7, we were back riding our car to one of the famous ancestral Native American settlement, Mesa verde. And then we travelled further north to get to Telluride, a ski resort town, to get a feel for what winter sports is.
Trip Date: 29th December 2016
Staying in the town of Durango was a very strategic decision. We could do the D&SNGRR train ride on one day and then for the next day, we had the Mesa Verde National Park at less than an hour drive. As the norm of this trip, we started early from our Hotel and headed straight to the Mesa Verde National Park Visitor Center, right when they opened.
Mesa Verde National Park
Similar to other amazing national parks and monuments around New Mexico and Southern Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is a well maintained, historical, ancestral pueblo site. The uniqueness of this park is the hundreds of well preserved cliff dwellings found spread across a huge expanse of land. The park is so huge that it easily took us more than 45 mins to reach from the visitor center to one of the observation site and trail.
Mesa Verde NP Visitor Center
The Mesa Verde NP visitor center is located on the left, just as you enter the park. It is a very good place to start. The rangers are knowledgable and explain about the sites / trails which are open on that particular day. The center also houses some of the ancestral items, models, etc. and gives you a feel of what you could expect in the park.
Also, the views from outside the visitor center is gorgeous with huge expanses of snow covered mountains, a native American construction, etc. Due to the location, not much is open during the winter. On the day we visited, only the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and Mesa Top Loop Road was open. Other trails and sites were either closed due to falling rocks or inaccessible due to snow.
We decided to drive to the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum from the visitor center and then start from there. Even though we were already inside the national park, it took us about 45 mins to drive there. The roads were cleared of snow, but still at many places they were icy and slippery. We had to thread our way carefully. However, the views on both sides of the road were always gorgeous throughout the whole drive.
Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum
While the visitor center had a couple of exhibits, the Chapin Mesa Museum was far more extensive. It had a huge collections of artifacts, models and exhibits and it took us a long time to go through each one in detail. It also gave RK the opportunity to stretch his legs after an icy drive.
Spruce Tree House
Right outside the museum was the trail to the Spruce Tree House. Spruce Tree House is Mesa Verde’s best-preserved cliff dwelling. Unfortunately it was closed due to falling rocks on the day we visited. However we were able to get a nice view of it from a distance.
Mesa Top Loop Road
After catching some long shot views of the Spruce tree House, we hopped back onto our car and were headed to do drive along the Mesa Top loop Road. It is a 6 mile drive with many quick stops. At the stops, there were short paved trails taking you to different sites.
Since it was so convenient, we stopped at every point. We saw lots and lots of pit houses, cliff dwellings, canyon views. Also, the views of the sun temple, the cliff palace, etc. were simply amazing. Though we did not get to see every site in the national park, it was still well worth a visit in winter.
After spending atleast a few hours exploring the park, we decided to make the long drive back to the exit. Once outside the park, we decided to stop at the town of Cortez for lunch. We chose a Thai restaurant, “Thai Cortez”, which was right in the middle of town. It was a weekday and was quite busy. The servers were very un attentive and it took them a while to seat us, provide us the menu and get the food served. We ordered 2 coconut milk based curries with tofu, vegetables and served along with jasmine rice. While both tasted similar, they were very flavorful and delicious.
The other plan for the day was to visit the resort town of Telluride. We were not planning to do any skiing or other activity, but wanted to enjoy the scenery of snow covered mountains and the lovely drive. We chose to use highway 145 to get up north to Telluride. The road was well maintained, with beautiful little towns all along the way. The whole route was simply beautiful during winter and I assume that it would be so irrespective of the season.
Telluride Gondola Station
After a long and pleasant drive, we were at the town of Telluride. We were very lucky on that day. We got ourself a car parking very close to the gondola station. I have heard that usually the town is very crowded and it is hard to get a parking space. Unlike gondolas at many other resort town, this Telluride/Mountain Village gondola is a free public transportation system. It links Telluride and Mountain Village and serves both the skiers / visitors and local residents.
I was pretty sure that I could not get a better view of the slopes and the surrounding than from the gondola. I quickly hoped on to the gondola at the Telluride station.The gondola was basically gaining altitude until reaching the 1st stop of San Sophia Station.
There is a restaurant at Sophia station and folks can get down if needed. But we did not get down and decided to stay on the gondola to go further. The second stretch was more of a decent until we reached the final stop of Mountain Village.
Mountain Village is a small town on top of the mountains. It is a very touristy town with a lot of hotels, people sking down the slopes and then some folks resting along fireplaces at restaurants / bars. I just wandered around for a bit, had a cup of coffee, and decided that it was time to go back.
The gondola station did not have any queue while coming from Telluride. However on the way back there was a long line of folks. The line was moving fairly quickly. We then got into our gondola and headed back to the Telluride station. From there, we roamed around the Telluride streets for a bit doing window shopping. And then quickly got into our car and drove to our Hotel in Placerville.
Since Telluride is a touristy city, the hotel prices are way too expensive. Placerville is a small town just a short drive from Telluride and we found the perfect accommodation at the “The Angler Inn” for a reasonable price. The whole place was so beautiful and idyllic. People were very friendly and we went straight to our room to rest for some time. And then in a hour or so, we got back down to the restaurant. The location was so convenient. We ordered a plate of veggie burger and a adult grill cheese sandwich. While the ambience was excellent, the food taste was just ok. The grill cheese sandwich was very buttery and heavy. The veggie burger felt like it was deep fried and was very crisp and not juicy. After having a heavy dinner, we then retired back to our room for some sleep.
– To be continued in Southern Colorado Road Trip – Day 8 –