4 Best National Parks For RVers

The US National Park Service administers a network of nearly 400 natural, cultural, historic, and recreational sites. In an earlier post, Vogel Talks RVing selected four national parks that are great for RVers. Following are the four best national parks for RVers.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

801,000-acre Big Bend National Park is defined by the Rio Grande, which forms the boundary between Texas and Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
801,000-acre Big Bend National Park is defined by the Rio Grande, which forms the boundary between Texas and Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Far West Texas, along the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park, there’s a magical place with a great deal of silence, beauty, and space—creating an ideal habitat for the turkeys, javelinas, roadrunners, and coyotes.

The 801,000-acre park is defined by the Rio Grande, which forms the boundary between Texas and two Mexican states. But the park touts more than a famous river: In the middle of Big Bend there’s a grand series of peaks known as the Chisos, accessible by dinghy and small RVs along a narrow and curved access road. Ponderosa and pinyon pine carpet the cool flanks of these hills, providing a haven for black bears and cougars. The park bisects one of North America’s most significant deserts, the Chihuahuan, creating an abundance of variety.

Big Bend has four campgrounds: Rio Grande Village RV Campground (25 full hookup sites), Rio Grande Village Campground (100 non-hookup sites), Chisos Basin Campground (60 non-hookup sites), and Cottonwood Campground (24 non-hookup sites).

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mesa Verde National Park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.

The best way of acquiring a feeling for Mesa Verde is to follow the 6-mile Mesa Top Auto Loop Road which traces Pueblo history at 10 overlooks and archeological sites.

But for an intimate look at the kivas and actual living accommodations take the 15-minute hike from the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum to Spruce Tree House. If you would like to explore Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or Long House guided by a ranger, stop by the Far View Visitor Center for information and tour tickets.

Mesa Verde offers great camping just 4 miles inside the park at Morefield Campground. Because there are 267 sites, there’s always plenty of space. The campground rarely fills. But if you want one of the 15 full-hookup sites, reservations are a must.

Zion National Park, Utah

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Follow the paths where ancient native people and Mormon pioneers walked. Gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky. Experience wilderness in a narrow slot canyon.

Catch a shuttle for Zion Canyon, the only vehicular means by which you can access this gorgeous area in the summer. And as you progress, soak up the splendor offered by the Court of the Patriarchs and the Temple of Sinawava with their secluded hiking trails.

Zion National Park has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon. South Campground (127 non-hookup sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites, 95 with electric hookups; reservations recommended) are near the south entrance at Springdale.

Situated at 7,890 feet above sea level, the Lava Point Campground (6 primitive sites) is off the Kolob Terrace Road, 25 miles (45 minutes) north of the town of Virgin. It takes approximately one hour and 20 minutes to drive to the campground from the South Entrance of Zion Canyon.

There are no campgrounds in Kolob Canyons. Private RV parks are also available near the park’s entrances.

Death Valley National Park, California

Dante’s View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley, affords the best overall views of the southern half of the national park including Badwater. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Dante’s View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley, affords the best overall views of the southern half of the national park including Badwater. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.

Death Valley offers six campgrounds suitable for most RVs: Furnace Creek (136 sites, a few full hookups), Stovepipe Wells Village (190 sites; 19 full hookups), Sunset (270 non-hookup sites), Texas Spring (92 non-hookup sites), Mesquite Spring (30 non-hookup sites), and Widrose (23 non-hookup sites). A high-clearance vehicle is required to access Thorndike (6 non-hookup sites; 7,400-foot elevation) and Mahogany Flat (10 non-hookup sites; 8,200-foot elevation).

Worth Pondering…

Not to have known…either the mountain or the desert is not to have known one’s self.

—Joseph Wood Krutch

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National Parks Impact Local Economies

National park visitors contributed $26.5 billion to the nation’s economy and supported almost 240,000 jobs in 2013, according to a peer-reviewed report.

salt flats at Badwarwe Basin
Walk onto the crusted salt flats at Badwarwe Basin (Death Valley National Park) for a short distance to enjoy the expansive views up and down the valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“National parks are often the primary economic engines of many park gateway communities,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, in a news release.

“While park rangers provide interpretation of the iconic natural, cultural, and historic landscapes, nearby communities provide our visitors with services that support hundreds of thousands of mostly local jobs.”

National park visitation for 2013 declined by 3.2 percent compared to 2012. The 16-day government shutdown last October accounted for most of the decline. National parks in the Northeast, closed for Hurricane Sandy-related repairs, were the other significant brake on visitation.

Visitor spending for 2013 was down by 1 percent. The number of jobs supported by visitor spending was off by 2.1 percent, and the overall effect on the U.S. economy was 1 percent lower than the previous year due to adjustments for inflation.

“The big picture of national parks and their importance to the economy is clear,” Jarvis said. “Every tax dollar invested in the National Park Service returns $10 to the U.S. economy because of visitor spending in gateway communities near the 401 parks of the National Park System.”

Just when you think you’ve seen as much color and sculptured rock for­mations Mother Nature can create, you enter Bryce Canyon for yet anoth­er brilliant and stunning display. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Just when you think you’ve seen as much color and sculptured rock for­mations Mother Nature can create, you enter Bryce Canyon for yet anoth­er brilliant and stunning display. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jarvis said visitation so far this year indicates a rebound from 2013 and he expects a steady increase as excitement grows in advance of the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service.

The annual report, 2013 National Park Visitor Spending Effects, was prepared by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. It includes information by park and by state on visitor spending within 60 miles of a national park, jobs supported by visitor spending, and other statistics.

According to the 2013 report, most park visitor spending was for lodging (30.3 percent) followed by food and beverages (27.3 percent), gas and oil (12.1 percent), admissions and fees (10.3 percent), and souvenirs and other expenses (10 percent).

The largest jobs categories supported by visitor spending were restaurants and bars (50,000 jobs) and lodging (38,000 jobs).

Total recreation visits and total visitor spending ($000s) in selected National Park Service sites follow:

Arches National Park, Utah: 1,082,866; $120,171.7

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: 1,311,875; $105,705.8

Carlsbad Canyon National Park, New Mexico: 388,565; $23,589.7

Death Valley National Park, California: 951,973; $75,255.1

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah: 1,991,925; $115,593.6

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: 4,564,841; $476,194.8

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee: 9,354,695; $734,086.6

Joshua Tree National Park, California: 1,383,341; $62,929.9

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Arizona and Nevada: 6,344,714; $260,500.1

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado: 460,237; $45,089.8

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas: 515,381; $20,967.0

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, Texas: 521,705; $28,576.1

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia:1,136,505; $72,402.6

Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming: 3,188,030; $381,762.7

Yosemite National Park, California: 3,691,192; $373,269.8

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah: 2,807,387; $147,501.9

Details

National Park Service

Since 1916, the American people have entrusted the National Park Service with the care of their national parks. With the help of volunteers and park partners, the park service is proud to safeguard these special places and to share their stories with more than 275 million visitors every year.

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities.

Website: www.nps.gov

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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National Parks Impact Local Economies

The economic benefits for communities located near national parks and other recreation and scenic hot spots are significant—as long as access to those areas is preserved.

After entering Petrified National Park from the south we hiked the Giant Logs trail located behind Rainbow Forest Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
After entering Petrified National Park from the south we hiked the Giant Logs trail located behind Rainbow Forest Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Park Service concludes that, nationwide, the country’s parks contributed more than $14.7 billion to gateway communities in 2012.

The report, “2012 National Park Visitor Spending Effects: Economic Contributions to Local Communities, States and the Nation,” reviewed the National Park Service’s 141 units across the country and analyzed the effects of tourism.

The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber, and Lynne Koontz for the Park Service.

Across the country, the report showed $14.7 billion of direct spending by 283 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 243,000 jobs nationally, with 201,000 jobs found in these gateway communities, with a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.75 billion.

Nationally, spending by visitors in gateway communities near national parks included 30 percent on hotels, motels, and bed and breakfast outlets; 20 percent in restaurants and bars; 12 percent on gas and oil; 10 percent for admission and fees; 10 percent on souvenirs and other expenses; 7 percent on local transportation and 2 percent on camping fees.

Across the country, the National Park System units cover a total of more than 84 million acres.

Arches National Park is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches National Park is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Park Service report shows 2.2 million people visited Michigan’s four national park units in 2012, spending a total of $181.7 million in the towns nearby, which helped support a total of 3,221 jobs in those local areas.

The report revealed that visitors spent more than $4.6 million while visiting two national parks in northwestern New Mexico. Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Aztec Ruins National Monument had 83,788 visitors and supported 65 jobs.

Aztec Ruins had nearly 45,000 visitors who spent about $2.4 million, while Chaco Culture had about 39,000 visitors who spent about $2.25 million in 2012, according to the report.

Also in the Four Corners area, Mesa Verde National Park had about 488,000 total visitors who spent $46.7 million. The spending helped support 645 jobs in the area.

In California, Death Valley National Park hosted nearly 1 million visitors, Yosemite National Park saw more than 3 million visitors and Devil’s Postpile National Monument hosted 90,000 visitors in 2012.

The Death Valley report states that those visitors spent an estimated $78 million, supporting 929 jobs in communities surrounding the park, such as Lone Pine, Olancha, Shoshone, and Tecopa.

The Park Service has been measuring and reporting visitor spending and economic effects for the past 24 years.

A separate report indicates that the 2013 numbers tell a different story due in part to the 16-day government shutdown in October.

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is the 10th-most visited property in the National Park Service, according to NPS 2013 visitation figures for America’s national parks.

Visitation is down in the recreation area, from 4.9 million in 2012 to 4.8 million in 2013.

The contribution of 4,298,178 visitors spending to Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) amounted to 7,361 jobs, $194.112 million in labor income, and $346,447 million in value added. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The contribution of 4,298,178 visitors spending to Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) amounted to 7,361 jobs, $194.112 million in labor income, and $346,447 million in value added. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The exact numbers — 4,970,802 in 2012 and 4,843,350 in 2013 — reflect a decrease of 127,452 visitors.

Nationally, the number of recreational visits to national parks in 2013 was 273 million, which was 9.1 million less than 2012 visitations.

“The shutdown reduced our visitation for the year by more than 5 million visitors who were turned away during those two weeks. These closures had a real impact on local businesses and communities that rely on the national parks as important drivers for their local economies,” NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said.

Top 10 Most Visited Places in the National Park System

Golden Gate National Recreation Area: 14,289,121

Blue Ridge Parkway: 12,877,368

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 9,354,695

George Washington Memorial Parkway: 7,360,392

Lincoln Memorial: 6,546,518

Lake Mead National Recreation Area: 6,344,714

Gateway National Recreation Area: 6,191,246

Natchez Trace Parkway: 6,012,740

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park: 4,941,367

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area: 4,843,350

Top 10 Most Visited National Parks

Landscape photography requires quality equipment and demands skills, lenses, and filters that will capture fine details and resolve contrast issues. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Landscape photography requires quality equipment and demands skills, lenses, and filters that will capture fine details and resolve contrast issues. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 9,354,695

Grand Canyon National Park: 4,564,840

Yosemite National Park: 3,691,191

Yellowstone National Park: 3,188,030

Olympic National Park: 3,085,340

Rocky Mountain National Park: 2,991,141

Zion National Park: 2,807,387

Grand Teton National Park: 2,688,794

Acadia National Park: 2,254,922

Glacier National Park: 2,190,374

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner

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50 Magnificent RV Trips

You might have seen it on a shelf and thought, “I should pick that up.”

Late afternoon shadows enhance the beauty of Joshua Tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Late afternoon shadows enhance the beauty of Joshua Tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s the national bestseller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

Sometimes the best adventures are those in your own backyard.

Here, in alphabetical order, are 50 things to do or see in your RV before you die:

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park encompasses one of the most interesting and diverse patches of desert in the U.S. Its namesake species, the spiky, dramatically crooked Joshua tree, is also considered by many to be the defining characteristic of the Mojave Desert.

But this huge desert park actually lies at the meeting point of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. The park’s eastern and southern areas, with sub 3,000-foot elevation and plants such as “jumping” cholla cactus and spidery ocotillo, is Sonoran in character; its western areas are higher, cooler, wetter, and quite densely forested with the park’s namesake tree.

Continue reading →

Las Vegas, Nevada

You only live once, so Vegas is a must. The Strip is fun, even for those who don’t like to throw away their money—err—I mean gamble. Scores of free shows and nightly programs drop the collective jaw of be-dazzled viewers. Nearly a hundred casinos light up the Nevada sky to woo penny pinchers and high rollers alike. Area tours, desert beauty and some of the country’s best golf courses make Vegas far more than just a gamer’s paradise.

Memphis, Tennessee

Put on your blue suede shoes and drop on in. Whether it is the strains of the Blues, the smell of old fashioned Southern barbecue, or the myriad sights that catch your eye, there is something unique about the city of Memphis.

There are approximately 600 cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birthplace of rock ‘n roll and the blues, Memphis lays greater claim to shaping the music of the 20th century than any other city in the nation. Memphis is home to blues notables such as B.B. King and the late W.C. Handy, as well as rock ’n roll pioneer Elvis Presley.

No visit to Memphis would be complete without a visit to Graceland, the home of the late Elvis Presley, otherwise known as “The King.”

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

More than a century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt established the first national park devoted to preserving the works of man — Mesa Verde. Here, approximately 1,400 years ago, the Pueblo Indians lived in what we now call cliff dwellings.

Although the majority of these domiciles are relatively small, the largest, known as the Cliff Palace, contained 150 rooms. The park has more than 4,000 known archaeological sites, with many open for ranger-guided tours.

Continue reading →

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona & Utah

Sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires rise majestically from the desert floor. Monument Valley offers the Western backdrop made famous in movies directed by John Ford.

An unpaved, and at times rough, road loops through the park. Several overlooks offer spectacular views of the wonders of Monument Valley.

Some of the most striking and recognizable landscapes of sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires in the entire Southwest are found in Monument Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Some of the most striking and recognizable landscapes of sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires in the entire Southwest are found in Monument Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the grandest—and most photographed—landmarks in the United States, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is a sprawling, sandy preserve that straddles the border of northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah.

Continue reading →

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Ascending to 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier stands as an icon in the Washington landscape. An active volcano, Mount Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S. spawning six major rivers. Subalpine wildflower meadows ring the icy volcano while ancient forest cloaks Mount Rainier’s lower slopes. Wildlife abounds in the park’s ecosystems. The most popular destination for visitors to Mount Rainier is Paradise located on the south slope at approximately 5,400 feet.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota

South Dakota’s Black Hills provide the backdrop for Mount Rushmore, the world’s greatest mountain carving. These 60-foot high faces, 500 feet up, look out over a setting of pine, spruce, birch, and aspen in the clear western air.

The sculpture was carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum. This epic sculpture features the heads of four exalted American presidents (from left to right): George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

Please Note: This is Part 5 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

The West is color. Its colors are animal rather than vegetable, the colors of earth and sunlight and ripeness.

—Jessamyn West

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National Park Summer Escapes

Memorial Day is but a memory, the summer travel season is upon us, and many RVers are planning their annual getaway. For more than a few, that will mean a summertime visit to one of America’s national parks, which continue to be favorite destinations with RVers everywhere.

Bryce Canyon's limestone has eroded into rock fins and spectacularly-shaped spires called hoodoos. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Parks are natural treasures and are cared for by the National Park Service. If you have not traveled to iconic places like Bryce, Arches, Zion, Mesa Verde, Yellowstone, and Carlsbad Caverns perhaps you should consider these “wonders” for this summer’s vacation.

Bryce is truly one of the most spectacular scenic wonders of the world. The formations within Bryce Canyon National Park, called hoodoos, are the creation of wind and water erosion over eons of time. Iron oxidizing within the rock causes the natural orange and red hues that color these formations.

Arches National Park is a geological wonderland and one of Utah’s most accessible parks. The extraordinary features of the park create a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures that is unlike any other in the world. An awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations dot its landscape.

Zion National Park is known for its majestic towering rock mountains which rise to awe-inspiring heights. Zion is a lush green oasis, surrounded by startling sentinels of stone. With sheer, milky-white cliffs and pristine waterfalls, Zion is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

There are approximately 600 cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unique in the park system, Mesa Verde is the first and only park created for the protection and preservation of archaeological resources and is the only World Heritage Site in Colorado. Conde Nast Traveler chose it as the top historic monument in the world, and National Geographic Traveler chose it as one of the “50 places of a Lifetime— the World’s 50 Greatest Destinations”, in a class with the Taj Mahal and Great Wall of China.

July is National Park and Recreation Month

Since 1985, America has celebrated July as the nation’s official Park and Recreation Month. This year’s theme is “Rock Your Park!” National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and its new initiative, America’s Backyard, encourage you to show the country how parks and recreation make your life extraordinary!

Take the 5 in July Park Pledge

There are five weekends in July 2011—five Fridays, five Saturdays, and five Sundays!  Create a healthy weekend habit by getting out to a national park, state park, hiking trail, local playground or park, historic site or park, wildlife refuge, natural area, or other public recreation area every weekend.

Make your personal commitment to get outdoors by signing NRPA’s 5 in July Park Pledge.

All individuals who sign the pledge will be eligible to win a free 8GB iPod Touch by random drawing. The winner will be announced on August 12, 2011.

“According to recent studies, about one-third of Americans struggle with inactivity, obesity, and associated health challenges,” said NRPA CEO Barbara Tulipane. “Now is time for change. Through Park and Recreation Month, we’re encouraging Americans to get out, get active, and get healthy. By signing our Five in July Park Pledge, citizens can become a real part of the movement toward wellness.”

“Rock Your Park” Flash Mob Contest

To spread the word and demonstrate the power of parks and recreation, NRPA is hosting a national “Rock Your Park” Flash Mob Contest. Citizens are encouraged to put together a group of people and show the power of parks together in Flash Mob form.

A flash mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, and perform an unusual act for a brief time, often for the purposes of entertainment and/or satire. First attempted in 2003, Flash Mobs have become an internet phenomenon.

July Social Media Project

Also, NRPA is hosting its second annual July Social Media Project. Individuals are encouraged to take photos with the official “Rock Your Park” social media sign and post them on their favorite social media sites.

Details

National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA)

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) is a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing park, recreation, and conservation efforts that enhance quality of life for all people. Through its network of 20,000 recreation and park professionals and citizens, NRPA encourages the promotion of healthy lifestyles, recreation initiatives, and conservation of natural and cultural resources.

America’s Backyard

Take the Five in July Pledge

“Rock Your Park” Flash Mob Contest

Worth Pondering…
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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Green Table: Mesa Verde National Park, CO, Part 2

Mesa Verde’s Treasures
Among Mesa Verde’s hundreds of cliff dwellings and mesa-top structures, the most spectacular and frequently visited are listed below.

 

Cliff Palace

The largest and most captivating of Mesa Verde’s cliff villages, Cliff Palace is located on Chapin Mesa, and features multistoried house blocks, courtyards, kivas, and stone towers built beneath a massive cliff overhang. Built about 1210, Cliff Palace contains 220 rooms and 23 kivas. It can be entered only on ranger-guided tours from mid-April to early November. However, the site can be viewed year-round from a canyon overlook.

Balcony House
A small dwelling, with 45 rooms and two kivas, Balcony House was built high on a ledge several hundred feet above the floor of Soda Canyon. Tree-ring dates from timbers used in construction indicate the village was occupied for nearly 200 years, from about 1096 to 1278, and may have been the last occupied dwelling on the mesa. Named for the walled and still-intact balcony which fronts a four-room structure at one end of the dwelling, Balcony House can be entered only on ranger-guided tours.

Square Tower House
Built in the mid-1200s in an alcove in the cliffs of Navajo Canyon, Square Tower House is a small but stunningly picturesque settlement of about 60 rooms and two kivas. An 86-foot-high square tower built against the rear wall of the alcove gives the structure its name. The tower, which actually was a four-story dwelling, is the highest structure on Mesa Verde. Square Tower House cannot be entered, but the site is easily viewed year-round from a canyon overlook.

Far View Complex
This series of mesa-top pueblos on the northeastern edge of Mesa Verde dates to about 1050. The flat, relatively open area affords a spectacular view of Mancos Valley to the east and Montezuma Valley to the west. A farming community, Far View was ideal for the basic Anasazi crops of corn, beans, and squash.

An upclose look at one of the more spectacular cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Far View House, Pipe Shrine House, and Coyote Village are the major units in this complex. Pipe Shrine House was named for the large number of ceremonial pipes recovered when it was excavated in the 1920s. Also in the complex, which is open year-round, is a stone tower believed to have served as a lookout station.

Long House
On Wetherill Mesa in the western section of the park, Long House is Mesa Verde’s second largest cliff dwelling. Built in the early 1200s on three levels in a canyon alcove, the pueblo has 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and a unique rectangular dance plaza.

Camping

Morefield Campground is located 4 miles inside Mesa Verde. With nearly 400 sites, there’s always plenty of space with the campground rarely full. Each site has a table, bench, and grill. Camping is open to tents, trailers, and RVs, including 15 full hookup RV sites that require reservations.

2010-2011 Park schedule

Mesa Verde National Park is open year-round, but some of the facilities, tours, and access to archeological sites are seasonal. To make the most out of your trip, take a look at the 2010 or 2011 Park Schedule to see what will be available at the time of your visit.

 

Did You Know?
Contrary to popular belief, the Ancestral Puebloan people of Mesa Verde did not disappear. They migrated south to New Mexico and Arizona, and became today’s modern pueblo people.

Mesa Verde National Park

Details

Operating Hours: Open year-round, 24 hours a day

Admission: $10-15/vehicle (good for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted

Pets: Not allowed on any hiking trails, in archeological sites, or anywhere in the backcountry

Size: 52,122 acres; about 81 square miles

Elevation: 6,000-8,500 feet

Location: From Cortez, east on Highway 160 to the park turnoff

Camping: Starts at $23/night + tax; reservations accepted

Address: P.O. Box 8, Mesa Verde, CO 81330

Contact: (970) 529-4465

Worth Pondering…

Great quote from travel writer Doug Lansky: “The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he comes to see.” Think about it.

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Green Table: Mesa Verde National Park, CO

Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwestern Colorado off Highway 160, 9 miles east of Cortez and 35 miles west of Durango. It is the lone national park in Colorado that we visited during our Grand Circle Tour.

Mesa Verde cliffs soar 2,000 feet above grassy plains. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rising sharply between the Mancos and Montezuma valleys, the broad escarpment of Mesa Verde, a Spanish term for green table, beckons with a promise of adventure and mystery. The mesa’s cliffs soar 2,000 feet above grassy plains. Along its piñon-juniper ridges and in its deep canyons are hundreds of surface pueblos, cliff dwellings, stone towers, and pithouses attesting to a time when a prehistoric Indian people called this great mesa home.

They were the Anasazi, who abandoned Mesa Verde more than 700 years ago, but to present-day Indian people of the Four Corners region, the Anasazi have never left. They believe the spirits of their ancestors still inhabit the mesa.

The Anasazi left no written record, and details of the things vital in their daily lives have long since vanished.

“Archaeologists have been able to reconstruct much of the workaday life at Mesa Verde from things left behind. But the intangibles that held life together remain obscure,” wrote archaeologist and area resident Florence Lister in Mesa Verde: The First 100 Years, a collection of essays, photographs, and articles edited by the Mesa Verde Museum Association. “Because the Ancestral Puebloans had no written language to document their world views, we know nothing of their oral traditions, their songs, their dances, their sacred ceremonies, or the devastating circumstances that drove them away.”

The first view of a cliff dwelling is 21 miles (approximately 45 minutes) past the entrance station along a steep, narrow, winding road. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since archaeologists do not know what the Mesa Verdeans called themselves, they have adopted Anasazi—the Ancient Ones—the name given to them by the Navajos, who claim an ancestral link. More recently, the National Park Service has adopted the term Ancestoral Puebloans.

Unique in the park system, Mesa Verde is the first and only park created for the protection and preservation of archaeological resources and is the only World Heritage Site in Colorado. Conde Nast Traveler chose it as the top historic monument in the world, and National Geographic Traveler chose it as one of the “50 places of a Lifetime— the World’s 50 Greatest Destinations”, in a class with the Taj Mahal and Great Wall of China.

Mesa Verde does not lend itself to a hurry-up visit. It takes time to savor the magic of its eight centuries of prehistoric Indian culture. As a vintage slogan at the park advises:
“It’s a place where you can see for 100 miles and look back in time 1,000 years.”

The intricate architecture is as awesome to behold today as it was when cowboys and ranchers first saw it. Two men looking for lost cattle, Richard Wetherill and Charles Mason, came upon the most spectacular site, the 150-room Cliff Palace, in 1888.

Mesa Verde National Park was established 18 years later, in 1906.

From Mesa Verde’s entrance a two-lane paved road winds upward 2,000 feet through piñon-juniper forests and canyons. At Park Point, on the northern edge of the mesa at 8,600 feet, the visitor is treated to a panoramic view of the Montezuma Valley to the west, and the Mancos Valley, framed by the 14,000-foot San Juan and La Plata mountains to the east.
Fifteen miles south of the park entrance, Far View Visitor Center provides information and displays designed as an introduction to the Anasazi civilization.

Immediately south of the visitor center, a farming complex dates to about 1050. Two large surface pueblos—Far View House and Pipe Shrine House— and smaller settlements make up the complex.

At Far View, the road divides. The west fork leads to Wetherill Mesa and a number of major cliff dwellings, including Long House, second largest at Mesa Verde. The south fork leads to Park Headquarters on lower Chapin Mesa and the major cliff dwellings of Cliff Palace, largest in the park, Spruce Tree House, Balcony House, Square Tower House, and others.

Near Park Headquarters is the outstanding Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum. With scores of exhibits and five unique dioramas, the museum provides a comprehensive overview of the area’s ancient people.

There are approximately 600 cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Only one of the major Mesa Verde sites is available for self-guided tours. Spruce Tree House is at the bottom of a canyon behind the park’s museum. A five-minute walk down a paved trail leads to this 114-room, eight-kiva structure—the one initially discovered by Wetherill. One popular  feature is a reconstructed and roofed kiva visitors can access by ladder.

Tickets to tour other popular larger structures—Cliff Palace, Long House, and Balcony House—must be obtained in advance at the visitor’s center. Tour groups are limited in size.
Our brief visit whetted our appetite for more. In the words of another time traveler from the future…I’ll be back.

Did You Know?
Park Point, the highest elevation in the park (8,427 feet), has a 360 degree panoramic view that is considered one of the grandest in the country.

To be continued tomorrow…

Worth Pondering…

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know that place for the first time.

— T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding

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