When I drove south from Denver to Albuquerque, I had initially found myself disappointed with the scenic view of New Mexico. Even though it was much prettier than my drive through Iowa, I felt that it didn’t quite compare to Colorado. New Mexico just wasn’t very interesting to look at.
Or so I thought.
Turns out, I was completely wrong. My drive northwest from Albuquerque, NM to Mancos, Colorado was absolutely stunning. I travelled through a breathtaking desert with rocky plateaus and smaller mountains. The gorgeous roads wound through magnificent rock cliffs. I was in constant awe of this incredible rocky desert terrain. I loved it! New Mexico was gorgeous!!!
There was almost no cell phone reception though, and gas stations seemed very few and far between. I had to be very careful not to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. I crossed back into Colorado, and suddenly I wasn’t driving through desert plateaus, but back through winding mountains. I had started my road trip fairly terrified of having to drive through the mountains. But it turned out to be a pretty amazing experience. This part of southern Colorado was so incredible. The mountainous world around me was ablaze with an autumn inferno of reds, oranges, and yellows. No picture could capture the sight and no words could describe my feelings. Some of the clouds looked close enough to touch, and I realized I was at about 8000 feet above sea level now.
I shuddered at the thought of these mountain roads in the winter though. I know sometimes the Colorado mountains get snow as early as October. I wasn’t sure what would happen to me if I got stuck in that.
I made it to my destination early in the afternoon. It was a small sleepy mountain town called Mancos. There weren’t many people there, and I wondered how anyone could live in such a small isolated town without going crazy. I drove up to Mancos Inn, where I was staying for the night. It was nice, though relatively vacant as well on this random weekday. I had an entire bunkbed dorm room to myself, which was nice.
My plan was to go check out Mesa Verde immediately. It would be the first Colorado National Park that I was visiting. I was on a “quest” to see all four, an idea suggested to me by my friend Simon. The internet informed me that I would need several hours to explore Mesa Verde though, and sunset wasn’t too far away. So I opted to go in the morning. A sudden and powerful rainstorm validated my decision. I wasn’t going to check out Mesa Verde National Park until tomorrow, but that didn’t mean that I needed to be stuck in Mancos Inn all afternoon either. I grabbed my umbrella and took a stroll through the downpour over to a nearby brewery. I hung out there for a little bit. People seemed a bit closed off there. I guess they were used to tourists. The bartender was pretty friendly though. I heard some people talking about their upcoming trip to Costa Rica, so of course I had to butt in and tell them how amazing Costa Rica is.
I came back to Mancos Inn to just relax for a bit. Driving around is exhausting, so it felt good to just lounge out, read a book, and play on my computer. The only downside was the strange guy who was working at the inn. He started telling me about how he couldn’t drink alcohol this winter because the last time he drank, he got a felony for assault. He had a bunch of other crazy stories too. I tried to just nod along, but that seemed to encourage him to continue. Then he started going on about his political opinions. I had no desire to interact with this guy anymore so I finally left. It never felt unsafe, but I grew pretty irritated.
I set out early the next morning to visit my first Colorado National Park – Mesa Verde.
To be honest, my expectations of this place were very low. I had seen pictures of it and hadn’t been horribly impressed. The park was known for it’s “cliff dwellings”. Little buildings made my indigenous people who lived here long ago. That seemed ok, but not nearly as appealing to me as the black canyon, the sand dunes, or the rocky mountains. (Damn, Colorado is cool!)
It’s amazing how wrong I was about Mesa Verde. I started driving into the park and found the road to be extremely steep. It twisted and turned its way up along the mountains. There were a ton of places to stop on the side and take in the views. And as I drove further into the park, I found that each subsequent view was better than the last. I had initially been terrified of driving in mountains, but now I was much more amazed than terrified. I met a couple people at some of the lookout views. One of them asked me about my road trip and told me to make sure that I checked out some of the stuff in Utah. Duly noted.
There were so many different places to pull over and stop and check out the views. And I stopped at every. single. one. Some of the heights, at 8000 feet, just gave incredible panoramas of Colorado mountains and valleys stretching out far below me.
I took so many pictures, but I also feared looking at the world through my phone more than in real life. I decided that any time I took pictures, I needed to put away my phone and sit and just BE there for at least a minute afterwards. This ended up being a great rule that I followed the rest of the trip. It ensured a happy balance between mindful presence and breathtaking memories.
I didn’t book any of the tours that Mesa Verde gives. Some areas in the park require special tickets and tours. I needed to get to Arizona tonight, so I didn’t have time to spend an entire day here for a tour. But I did manage to see some really cool cliff dwellings. My favorite was this amazing large temple deep in one of the valleys. It was carved entirely out of the stone rock of the cliff walls. Just looking at it from afar was incredible. I tried to imagine what it was like for people, whole civilizations, to live their entire lives in these mountain valleys.
Life is strange indeed. I had an amazing time at this national park. It was an amazing surprise, and I am very glad I went. My only regret was that I didn’t slow down and spend more time here. It would have been cool to see more of the park. I also wanted to explore Durango and Pagosa Springs. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to return to the area some time!