I spoke to two rangers at Mesa Verde National Park on Saturday, one at the Visitors' Center and the other at the museum, and both seemed dismayed that for most visitors, Mesa Verde is a stop along the way rather than a destination. I'd have to agree with them, since we stayed the better part of a day there and saw only a small fraction of what the park has to offer.
Even in the summer the campground apparently never fills up, though camping on the mesa might be an appropriate way to feel just a bit closer to the Puebloans that lived there for so long.
Originally, our second Outdoors Bucket List item was intended to be "cross-country skiing in Mesa Verde."
For obvious reasons, that one didn't quite pan out. I had visited the park last year and hiked the Prater Ridge Trail, one of the three Moorefield Trails at the north end of the park, far away from the dwellings and ruins that people are coming to Mesa Verde to see. It interested me that this other random section of the park existed, and I thought these trails would be the replacement for our snow-dependent subject.
Foiled again, a quarter-mile into my Knife Edge Trail hike, for which I wore capri pants based on the 57 degree forecast, I realized there is snow in Mesa Verde. Not enough to ski, snowshoeing would be a little ridiculous too, but enough to posthole in shady spots and make the trail incredibly muddy in the sun.
These trails are definitely worth seeing though, the Prater Ridge Trail being the longest, made up of two loops to create a total of about seven and a half miles. This area of the park still shows the effects of fire damage on dead, white brush with charcoal tips from fires several years ago, and gives an eerie, desolate feeling.
The Petroglyph Point Trail ended up being a perfect hike that day, and was really fun. Not too strenuous, but the huge boulders and rocky, uneven but well-kept trail keeps you on your toes. I believe any time of day would be good for Petroglyph Point, the ranger suggested the morning but the mid-afternoon sun creeping out of the canyon created a great backdrop for viewing the ruins and petroglyphs.