Southwest Colorado: Mesa Verde National Park: Balcony House
Ouray is Only 2.5 Hours from Mesa Verde
In addition to seeing Ouray on their Colorado vacation, many people drive to Mesa Verde National Park and visit the ruins of the ancestral puebloans. It is a spectacular look into the history of the continent and establishes human existance in the region as early as 550 AD. The ancestral puebloans lived in the region until sometime around 1300 AD and many of their villages remain. Twenty-four present day tribal nations trace their ancestors back to the inhabitants of Mesa Verde.
To visit Balcony House is a physically demanding tour but well worth it for those who can tolerate the obstacles. Balcony House is opened from late April to early October every year and requires a guided ranger tour that costs $3/person regardless of age. The tour lasts about one hour and the ranger describes the daily life of the ancestral puebloans as well as some of their religious beliefs and customs.
Head to the Far View Visitor Center to obtain your tickets. During the busy summer season, you may only get to see one of the main ruins (Cliff Palace or Balcony House) in one day so get tickets early! The Visitor Center is actually 15 miles from the park entrance and it takes time to get there. Balcony House is another 30 minutes passed the Visitor Center.
Access to Balcony House starts with a long descent that includes several stair cases only to be greeted with a very large ladder and a 32 foot climb up to the ruins. The ladder is very secure but those with a severe fear of heights may not be comfortable climbing this large ladder. The ladder is large enough so that two people can climb side by side. It is anchored and bolted into the ground so there is no chance of it moving, even with all the people.
Once up the ladder, people walk through the initial entrance to the ruin and then into an open kiva area where the ranger begins to discuss the use of the kiva, daily habits and routines, access to water, and religious practices. Continuing to the second room, the discussion continues with more elaboration into the arachaeological significance of Mesa Verde and these sites.
When preparing to exit the ruin, people must negotiate a tunnel whereby they must crawl single file through a 12 foot long by 18 inches wide hole. There is no cushion or soft surface; it is rock and is hard on some knees. After the tunnel, there is an open face climb of 60 feet made up of two 10 foot ladders and stone steps. Most children will enjoy this adventurous tour.
Make sure to bring plenty of water. Also make sure to use sunscreen and wear a hat and sunglasses as well as the sun's rays are very intense during this time of year. Last, there are no gasoline stations within the park so be sure to have a full tank before you venture into the heart of this national treasure.