by Clara D.
Background of this road trip in Colorado
As part of a world tour and after a big crush after two first trips in 2018 in the American West, my boyfriend and I made a 2-month road trip through California, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Florida and Arizona.
We spent 10 days exploring Colorado and I wanted to share it.
Mesa Verde National Park
I have yet to meet a disappointing national park in the USA. They are often majestic (the Grand Canyon, Arches, Bryce Canyon) and can be used for long hikes (Zion, Yosemite, Yellowstone). Mesa Verde National Park is unique in its history. It is the largest archaeological reserve in the USA.
More than a canyon, there are no less than 600 cliffs containing pueblos, that is to say small cities built by the bitter Indians and their vestiges of troglodytic buildings. The Mesa Verde Visitor Center is a wealth of information on the history of Native Americans and is not to be missed.
The park of Mesa Verde is easy to visit, just follow the road and stop at the different viewpoints. Starting with the Mesa Top Loop, you can stop at different points of view to admire the canyon: Navajo Canyon Overlook offers a spectacular view. It is then possible, by following the road, to visit the remains of old houses by stopping at Pit House and Villages. Then, you can finally see the pueblos on the cliffs with the famous Sun Point View.
The second part of the tour takes place on the Cliff Palace Loop with a short 2kms walk to stretch your legs: the Soda Canyon Overlook Trail. This short walk allows you to have a breathtaking view of the canyon and you can see different cliffs: you should better not suffer from vertigo !
The highlight of the visit to Mesa Verde is usually the visit to Cliff Palace, Long House or Balcony House. With a guide, it is possible to visit the interior of these pueblos. However, it must be done in advance because the number of tickets for visits is limited and costs an additional $7 per person.
The big question remains: why did these peoples decide to build and live on the cliff ? The answers are many: to protect oneself from enemies, to protect oneself from rain, sun and snow or for spiritual reasons. But these are only speculations because the real reason remains unknown for the moment.
The Million Dollar Highway
We’re getting to the heart of the matter for this road trip to Colorado. The Million Dollar Highway is part of Route 550 that stretches from Bernalillo in New Mexico to Montrose in Colorado.
It is a road that takes us to the Colorado Mountains through the San Juan Forrest and is not lacking in charm. There are many stops along the way, including Pinkerton Hot Springs, the ghost town of Animas Forks, Box Canyon Falls, Bear Creek Falls, and the remains of old mines. The photo stops in this road trip in Colorado are not missing!
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It is the starting city of the famous train that travels between Durango and Silverton. It is a small town which is very quickly covered. There are charming shops and the pretty facade of the Strater Hotel. We also took a tour of the Gardenswartz Outdoor store and its assortment of firearms and stuffed animals. A special experience.
Cheap tip: Parking is charged everywhere but, by being discreet and not staying too long, you can park in the McDonalds parking lot.
Not much to see in Ridgway but an anecdote that makes me smile: at the supermarket we wanted to have coffee early in the morning. The credit card does not pass, and time to rush to the car for cash, the person behind has kindly paid for our coffee !
There is a principle in the United States called “pay it forward”. Do a good deed for a stranger, without expecting anything in return. The unknown will, in turn, have to do the same for another unknown. That’s what we did later by paying for one person’s meal in front of us at Walmart.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Next stop for this road trip in Colorado: Black Canyon of the Gunnison which owes its name to the black color of its rock but also to the fact that some places in the canyon receive only a few minutes of sunshine per day. On the walls, time and erosion have left traces and the Gunnison River flows in great waves.
It is not uncommon to encounter American antelopes, lizards, raccoons and - more rarely - cougars and even bears.
At its highest point, the canyon is more than 800m high for a total of 77kms long ! It is less than the Grand Canyon (1800m deep) but more than the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (330m deep). In fact, the famous “Painted Wall” is twice as high as the Empire State Building!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is what I call a “viewpoint park”, which is a national park that you visit primarily by driving from viewpoints to viewpoints. There is only one road in the park, so it is impossible to miss them. Each of them offers exceptional views of the canyon. Among the most beautiful are Tomichi Point, Gunnison Point, Devils Lookout, Chasm View, Painted Wall View and Sunset View.
It is also possible to visit the north bank (non-paved road) of the park but we only crossed the south bank. A nice discovery.
Admission to Black Canyon of the Gunnison is $25 per car. The America the Beautiful Pass is accepted.