Day 13: Mesa Verde

Day 13 wasn't a Friday, but it sounded like it was an unlucky day for some of the local wildlife.  At around 5AM, we were awakened by howls from a pack of coyotes who had just made a kill.  That really came as no surprise as the local deer population was so tame that they just walked in and out of the campsites, oblivious to the campers.  Probably made for easy pickings for the resident carnivores.

Leaving the campground, our first stop was Park Point.  Located at over 8500 feet and overlooking the two mesas that comprise the park, Park Point does double duty as a scenic overlook and a fire tower.  A small glass walled building located at its summit provides an excellent vantage point for the rangers to keep an eye on the entire park.

As we got deeper inside the park, we split off towards Chapin Mesa and some of the larger cliff dwellings.  On the top of this mesa were various pit houses, dating back to 600 AD.  Apparently the first American Indians who settled this region preferred to live homes built into the earth on the summit of the mesa.  These round pits were covered by a wooden roof which made them somewhat dangerous since cooking and heating were handled by open fire pits inside the structure.  Many excavated structures show evidence of fire damage.
Generations later, around 1200 AD, these same peoples moved down to the cliff faces and built the structures that the park is known for.  Archaeologists can only theorize why this change took place.  The largest cliff dwelling called "Cliff Palace" was being repaired during our visit, but we could still get a good view of it from atop the cliff.  What I found amazing about this site was that it only housed around 100 people.  Considering the amount of work it must have taken to haul all the supplies up the cliff, that was quite a feat for such a small group.
There are over 4700 archaeological sites in Mesa Verde and after a full day of riding and hiking we barley scratched the surface on what was there to see.  Several restaurants, gift shops and bathrooms are spaced throughout the park, which is incredibly convenient when you don't have room for a cooler and a picnic basket.  They even had a gas station at the camp ground, so everything we needed was available without having to leave the park.
One of the most exiting things that happened on our tour of Mesa Verde occurred when I realized that I had lost my transmission filler plug.  I guess I forgot to tighten it and it fell off somewhere in the park.  A rag stuffed in the opening got me through the day, but when we returned to camp we started making calls to locate a replacement.  The good news was that Harley has used the same size plug for about 50 years and although they didn't have one at Durango Harley-Davidson, they did direct me to an independent shop called Chrome Mafia in nearby Cortez.  I caught the guys at Chrome Mafia just before closing time and they agreed to leave a plug for me in the mailbox.  Needless to say, I headed straight to Cortez, topped off my transmission fluid and installed the new plug.

Even just riding around Mesa Verde, we still logged around 60 miles for the day and got to spend most of the time stretching our legs which was a nice change of pace.

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