On our recent 16 day camping trip through Utah, Arizona and Colorado, Bryce Canyon was our first National Park destination. We also visited Mesa Verde National Park, home of the cliff dwellings. Both places were so distinct and beautiful I will never forget our visit.
I wrote about our visit to Bryce Canyon and Mesa Verde for Mom It Forward on August 8, 2013 for the third of three posts on our trip. The first one covered the Grand Canyon and the second on Moab, Canyonlands and Arches.
First established as Utah National Park in 1923, it was renamed a year later for Ebenezer and Mary Bryce who settled there and grazed cattle inside what is now the park. Bryce Canyon, which isn’t really a canyon, but a collection of amphitheaters, is known for the distinct rock pillars called Hoodoos. They are formed by frost weathering and erosion.
Although there is parking within the park it is limited and recommended that you use the shuttles from Bryce Canyon City. The shuttles are also convenient if you take a hike that begins and ends in different locations. Camping and lodging is available both inside the park and in Bryce Canyon City.
The most famous viewing area is Bryce Amphitheater and you can hike down into it amongst the Hoodoos. We hiked Navajo Loop — a moderate hike — due to elevation change, beginning and ending at Sunset Point. Our four year old was able to complete the 1.3 mile loop with an 1100 foot total elevation change. The other part of our group continued on to complete the Queens Garden trail for a total of 2.4 miles. There are many hikes from easy to strenuous that will give you amazing views of this unique park or you can ride the shuttle or drive to each of the viewpoints. Bryce Canyon was unlike anything I had ever seen before.
Mesa Verde National Park, near Cortez, Colorado, created in 1906 preserves the Ancestral Pueblo people’s cliff dwellings. The park has over 600 cliff dwellings. From the visitors center it is a dramatic 20-30 mile drive back into the park to the Chapin Mesa and Wetherill Mesa. The topography was very unique and provided a high elevation oasis with vegetation.
At Chapin Mesa, we took the self-guided tour of the Spruce Tree House, the best preserved cliff dwelling most likely built in mid 1200 A.D. Rangers are available at the dwelling to answer questions. You can even go into a kiva, an underground chamber most likely used for religious or social purposes.
Most of the other dwellings, especially the well-known ones, are accessed only by ranger led tours. Reservations are made at the visitor’s center and tours do sell out, so get there early. We missed the opportunity to go on the tours.
Mesa Top Loop and Cliff Palace Loop are auto tours that provide viewpoints of mesa top sites and overlooks to cliff dwellings. Far View Sites is a mesa top community that can be accessed on a level unpaved trail.
These two National Parks are definitely can’t miss locations. We thoroughly enjoyed being able to get close to these unique historically and geologically significant locations. These are places we will go back to and explore more on future trips.