The mountains are full of so much energy. My whole life was spent so East Cost centric that I never had the opportunity to explore our own backyard. No backpacking trips across the West... One lone ski trip to Colorado but I was small enough to wear a fluffy onesie bib and do a pizza pie down a bunny slope. I probably cried the whole time. That's really my only memory of exploring the mountains. I always thought I was exclusive with the ocean and nothing else could give me that same zen feeling. Now, the American West has become a new playground to explore. My fiance's family has a cabin in Pagosa Springs and we've been making a pact to escape the southern heat to the crisp mountain air as much as possible.
If we were both to pick alternate careers we decided we would be a husband and wife archeology team solving ancient mysteries. While this is probably not going to happen (ha) we will settle for renting a car, hiking and admiring ruined history. Cue Mesa Verde and The Garden of the Gods. I feel like this area is really unexplored. The San Juan National Forest is a gem and it's a welcomed escape from crowded Aspen/Vail area. Go a little further south and you hit Santa Fe... Go a little south and west and you hit the four corners. Moab is only about 4-5 hours. This area takes a little patience to get to but once you reach it it offers so much beauty!
Cliff House Dwellings
Mesa Verde is fascinating. It's about 30 minutes from Durango and accessible by car up a giant mesa and winds around until you see these giant crevices in the earth. At first glance it's impossible to spot the dwellings. We arrived around 11am and couldn't get a tour until 330pm so we skipped it and just walked to a few lookout points. However, if you have time the tours let you walk within the dwellings which looked like an amazing experience!
Good to Know:
- Get there early if you want to take a tour of any of the dwellings up close. At Balcony House you can climb up a giant 30 ft ladder to get to it which looked pretty cool (or terrifying!). You can also reserve tickets in advance if you're in the area camping.
- If you want to photograph the dwellings, Balcony house is almost impossible to capture unless you have a long lens more than 200m. Morning light is best there. For Cliff House, overhead light shadows the dwellings so wait for around 3 or 4 or later to catch direct light.
- Bring snacks and water. There really aren't many places for this once you reach the dwelling areas
- Watch for coyotes. We saw one prancing along the road and many people had their dogs with them which made me nervous!
- Make sure to do Petroglyph Trail! It's about 3 miles round-trip and has some rocky terrain to climb around but oh the petroglyphs are just so incredible. It apparently tells the story of the Anasazi people and their journey from The Grand Canyon (where they say they came out of the Earth!) to the dwellings. I find Native American and First Tribe history incredibly beautiful. You can walk right up to the glyphs and study them.
Garden of the Gods
This is basically Jurassic Park. The formations are breathtaking and really unique. Around every corner I imagined a dinosaur roaming about. It's otherworldly. Garden of the Gods is much easier to get to if you are flying in and out of Denver. It's about 1.5 hour drive south and pretty much sits smack in the middle of Colorado Springs. It overlooks the beautiful Pikes Peak, which was still snowcapped when we visited! The hiking barely scrapes any elevation at GOG so it's accessible for anyone really. They also have wheelchair access and some paved trails.
Good To Know:
- This place gets crowded. It's definitely not a secret spot. There were a lot of foreign tourists and it was tough to get good shots of the cool spots. It's open at 8am so if you have the strength to get up early it's probably worth it!
- My favorite trails were the rocky, slopey ones that let us climb within the rock formations. Ridge Trail was a favorite.
- Bring water, we didn't see any fountains.
- I think you could honestly do this one quickly on the way down to the Great Sand Dunes if you're willing to camp overnight at the Dunes, which I heard is UNREAL. They only let 25 people camp a night so get on it! Will report back if we do it this summer. We spent 2 hours here (GOG) and it was enough.
Love wearing brights out on the trails. Theclymb.com is also a great resource to get hiking gear. It's sort of like Gilt but for outdoor things! I also loved having a bag that goes around the waist. Hands free and gave my shoulders a break!