On our second day visiting Mesa Verde National Park on our 2016 road trip, we decided to visit the Wetherill Mesa. After a busy first day at Chapin Mesa, we were excited for more exploring on day 2! Wetherill Mesa Road is a 12-mile, winding road that splits from the main road near the Far View Area. The road is only open from May through October, weather dependent, and there are some vehicle restrictions. The view from the top of the Mesa as the road winds and turns out to the Wetherill Information Area is beautiful! In this area, you can also really see the damage from wildfires in the past. The amenities at the Wetherill Information Area are sparse, but there is a small ranger information station, bookstore, food area, and bathrooms. We packed picnic lunches to enjoy after our tour of Long House.
Long House Tour
Though I’ve visited Mesa Verde several times, I had never been to Wetherill Mesa! I was really excited to explore a new area of the park. We met our ranger guide at the Wetherill Mesa Information Station for our 11AM tour. The tour group for this hike was much smaller because most people choose to take the tours on Chapin Mesa, so we got to know each other a little better. Our guide, Dave, asked each one of us a little about ourselves and then told us a little about himself and the area. Then, we began our hike to Long House.
The hike begins on the Long House loop paved trail. This paved trail is also open to bikers and other hikers to explore this area. The trail is mostly flat, but there is very little shade. We made sure we all had sunscreen and hats on this day!
After a short hike on the paved trail, we entered a gated area down to Long House. We walked through brush and near washes, and Dave was able to point out many interesting features along the trail. He gave us an extensive history of the flora and fauna of the area and how this sustained the people who lived here. We continued down some steps along the rock cliff-face and then came around a corner and there was Long House! Wow! What a view!
Long House Cliff Dwelling
Long House is the second-largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park. Also, because it is visited by far fewer people than the other cliff dwellings in the park, we got a little more freedom here. Dave led us up two ladders where we sat under the overhang and heard about the people who called Long House home. The view down into the valley from the cliff dwelling is stunning. It’s no wonder why the Ancestral Pueblo people chose this as their home!
Dave was also able to point out a few other features including some hand prints on the walls, a spring where water seeped through the rock into the dwelling, and several markings left by the first explorers to visit after the builders left. Then, we had a little time to explore on our own and ask as many questions as we could think of!
The kids loved climbing up and down the ladders and exploring the rooms in Long House. After a few more photos, we gathered back up and began the climb out of the canyon. Dave pointed out a few hand-and-toe holes in the canyon walls. Experts believe these were used by the cliff dwellers to access the mesa top from their homes. It’s unbelievable to think that’s how they climbed the walls!
Step House Cliff Dwelling
After our hike back to the Wetherill Information Area, we had been gone approximately 2.5 hours. It was time for some lunch for all of us! We sat at the picnic area under the shade near the information desk and enjoyed a picnic lunch. After a quick bathroom break, we decided to hike down to Step House.
Step House is the only cliff dwelling that you can visit for free without a guided tour now that Spruce Tree House is closed. The trail is approximately one-mile and it is a steep descent down to the dwelling and steep ascent back out. But, because the tour is self-guided, you can spend as much time as you want climbing down, exploring, and back out. This trail is a little more hazardous because of the steep steps and long drop-offs on the cliff side. Philip rode in the backpack and Emelia held my hand the entire way down and back out.
Step House is a very unique site to visit because of the evidence of two different occupations at different time periods. An older pit house site is visible when you first enter the dwelling that dates back to the 7th century. Then, you can visit the cliff dwelling that dates back to the 13th century in the same site. There is always a park ranger on site to answer questions during open hours. The nice part about visiting the cliff dwelling sites during the summer is that they’re all in the shade! Smart builders!
After the steep hike out of Step House, we started our drive back down the mesa. On our way out of the park, we stopped at Park Point, the highest point along the main park road. After a short walk up from the parking lot, the 360 degree views of the valley from the lookouts are incredible!
We could see across the valley to Shiprock in New Mexico and on the other side, Telluride in Colorado. After a few naps in the car after a couple of long days, we enjoyed another night of swimming and dinner at the campground. We got to bed early to prepare for our drive to Monument Valley the next day!
Campground: Mesa Verde RV Resort
Food: Picnics and Spruce Tree Terrace Café
Activities: Mesa Verde National Park Website
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