We had another goal on our travel beside bicycling in Glenwood Canyons, and that was to allow me to take the self-guided tour of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, in Carlsbad, New Mexico. From Utah, that’s a long drive, so we took our time and stopped a few places in between. Not on our schedule, but too good to pass up, was Mesa Verde National Park, which ended up being on our way. We spent two days quite nearby, allowing for more relaxed visiting of the park. We stopped near the end of October, when the park was essentially closing down for the winter, so some aspects of the park we had hoped to enjoy were unavailable to us. What we did see still made the visit worthwhile.
Mesa Verde, as in so many other national parks we have visited, has several portions of the park well set up for accessibility, with paved pathways to archeological digs that are under protective coverings. These excavations reveal life as it was lived back in the 1200-1500s by native tribes.
Pathways between these excavations are well marked, providing easy access while keeping the ruins protected from both infrequent rains, but more concerning, wildfires that have, over the past number of years, ravaged the landscape in this area.
The firetower and 360 degree views of the sourrounding countryside offered a paved surface for us to walk around on and get stunning views of the mountains in the distance, as well as golden eagles circling above us overhead.
The cliff dwellings were, to us, the most intriguing, trying to imagine climbing up and down the rock faces and living life tucked into these complex structures. A number of the cliff dwellings were grouped together, but we found additional cliff dwellings on other roads through the park, lacking any signage, but equally intriguing.
Leaving Mesa Verde behind, we stopped alongside a park and the Animus River Trail a rail trail that follows the river of the same name that flows through Durango, Colorado. This nine-mile paved rail trail travels through Whitewater Park, where we stopped, near the downtown.
We walked on a portion of the rail trail and were able to get down to the river’s edge and take in the views. This portion of the river has been clearly landscaped to increase the whitewater challenges. Pylons stand next to the river, with wires strung overhead, across the river, ready to support posts that kayakers will need to pivot around when races are underway.
We stopped at another local park, the Vereda Del Rio San Juan Park just over the state line from Colorado, into north western New Mexico, in the city of Bloomfield, also along the San Juan River, and took a quick walk after enjoying our lunch. The paved walkways next to and near the river invited visitors to get their “steps” in but other than one motivated walker, we had the park to ourselves the day we visited.
I enjoyed the cliffs on the opposite side of the river from where we were, but it was my husband who called attention to the oil refinery atop the cliffs. Not something we are accustomed to seeing normally in our travels.
From here we had a lot of driving to reach Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We stopped occasionally, but for the most part we simply took in the scenery, stretched when we needed to, and felt grateful we brought our bathroom with us in our teardrop camper. Next post will share our visit to Carlsbad, witnessing the bat flight, (which we caught just in time–they migrate south shortly after we visited in October) and some of the other wonderful places we explored in New Mexico, including of course, finding Easy Walks to enjoy. Happy trails!
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. The newest book is Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are.
She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.