We rattled into Cortez well after the sunset.
Cindy was quite pleased with herself having found a vacancy after several hotels she called were all booked up.
As we rolled through town we saw vacancy after vacancy. The following day with perfect 20/20 hindsight I would find out that there were plenty of vacancies at the Mesa Verde National Park hotel and the rooms all had amazing views.
Landing in Cortez still ended up being a much better idea than driving on to Durango and either missing Mesa Verde or having to backtrack.
And the hotel Cindy booked us at was next to a really nice Mexican restaurant that ended up being quite delicious. So sometimes things do end up working out better than one’s original plans.
And we did end up seeing a slew of incredible old signs in near perfect condition.
I snapped a pic of my favorite the following morning.
It's only 45 miles from Cortez to Durango around an hour's drive and we had only two points of interest to hit in between.
It should be no problem....
Mesa Verde, our main goal from the night before. The reason we landed in Cortez to begin with.
Off we headed, climbing up and up the mesa to the cliff dwellings of the Anaasází or should I say the Ancestral Pueblo.
When we visited years ago Anaasazi was the term used, we even bought a beautiful coffee table pictorial book of the Anaasazi people and their cliff dwellings. Only problem is the word Anaasází is Navajo for "Ancient Ones" or "Ancient Enemy" which I suppose the Hopi and the descendants of the Ancestral Pueblo took offense to.
Earlier in this blog I mentioned how sometimes one's plans don't go as intended and it actually works out better.
We were very excited to show Skye Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde National Park, actually in all of North America, the one that awed us so many years ago, long before Skye came into our lives.
We had tickets to the 1:30 tour but we landed in our parking space a few minutes before 1:00, which meant if we raced over we could probably make the earlier tour and end up saving some valuable time, better spent in Durango than hanging around waiting for a tour to start.
I decided the stress wasn't worth it, which is very uncharacteristic of me.
We took our time getting sorted, knowing we had plenty of time before the 1:30 group.
So when we got to the entrance at 1:10ish and a crowd of people were exiting, we were more than a little confused.
Turns out some guy had a heart attack and they were clearing out the Cliff Palace. Also turns out the guy having the heart attack died.
That definitely changed our plans, although not nearly as much as his.
See, I don't mean to be callous, really I don't but....
Seriously, I felt horrible that someone just died.
And of a heart attack, that's rather random. You've got to understand that while at the Grand Canyon, I found a book about all, and I'm sure its not really all, so "most" ,of the fatalities that have occurred in the park.
Cindy ate it up and horrified Skye and myself reading to us all sorts of tales of deaths, accidental and other.
In a way, our stumbling upon this misfortune seemed somewhat fitting.
That said, in the next couple of days I would hear of a couple friends' family members passing unexpectedly, thanks to Facebook and our plugged in world.
Cut to the Chase, Get to the Point
All of a sudden our well planned excursion was on the rocks and in need of new direction.
We ended up in a stand-by line for a tour of the Balcony House, also known amount the park rangers as the "Indiana Jones" tour.
Chutes and Ladders
Or rather ladders and crawl spaces;
What the Balcony House lacks in size and grandeur, especially when compared to the Palace House, it makes up for with its hands-on, interactive quality.
Also due to the nature of the tour, the group is smaller and more intimate.
One certainly gets a different perspective after climbing up a 30 foot ladder and crawling through the same tunnels that the Ancestral Pueblo did hundreds of years before.
Looking out from the Balcony House high above the canyon floor makes one really wonder why these people chose to go to such great lengths to live in these cave dwellings.
There are many theories but not definite answers.
Very awe-inspiring and thought provoking.
The city Cortez was probably named after the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortez who helped topple the Aztec Empire, but was never anywhere near Colorado or New Mexico.
That said, the other place we wanted to see on our way to Durango were the Aztec Ruins.
I had no idea there were Aztec ruins in Colorado.
That's because there aren't.
The site called the Aztec ruins, that I was so excited about seeing, were mistakenly thought by early white explorers to be relics of the Aztec civilization but were actually more dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo.
Given how far behind schedule we were running we decided not to see Aztec ruins and continue on towards Durango, which by the way derives its name from Durango Mexico, which takes its name from Durango Spain. I would imagine it had more to do with both New World Durangos originally being mining towns, but that's just a guess.
Cindy and I were in Durango many years before and really loved its quaint Main Street which looked just like we remember without the snow that is.
In fact we think we may have stayed at the same hotel, the Historic Strater Hotel, built in 1887 and renovated several times, very much the cornerstone of the Downtown Main Street.
Cindy and I would end up in the Saloon later that night after a wonderful dinner, but the evening's adventures will be for another entry.