Sunrise at Mesa Verde

At first when I sat down to write this, I was noodling with the idea of transitions, and how they can be difficult but beautiful.

And then I decided to just post the damn pictures. Maybe I’ll be poignant later, but for now… my trip to Mesa Verde National Park.

Someone recommended this to me when they heard I’d be in Cortez, CO for one night in my deranged inspired mission to put my butt on the Four Corners.

The funny thing is when I decided to do my Four Corners trip, I was somehow blissfully unaware of Mesa Verde National Park. I mean, I’d seen that iconic mesa in dozens of places before. I just had no concept of it being near to where I was staying in tiny Cortez.

Since I was committed to doing Four Corners on Saturday, I decided Sunday morning would be a great time to catch the sunrise from the top of a mesa. Just a quick marvel at the beauty of nature before I packed up my cat and hoofed it over to Flagstaff.

The challenge: my trip to Four Corners was literally about 20 hours. I got in from Santa Fe at about 2pm Mountain time. Unloaded the cat and all her crap. Took a quick power nap and headed out to Four Corners to do my thang.

That evening over dinner, I quickly reverse engineered what all I’d have to do in order to hit the road and make it to the park on time. What would I need to wear? Was there snow on the ground? Could I drag my ass up in time to snag a coffee first (answer: yes. Always. I will move heaven and earth for coffee)?

Sunrise was just after 7am, with dawn starting around 6:30. It took about 20 minutes to drive to the park, and I didn’t know if I’d have to stop and pay for an entrance fee or not (turns out not – on one else is up at the crack of dawn to explore national parks, including the gate attendants apparently).

I was up around 5:45, dressed by 6, coffee in hand by 6:15, and on my way. I got there right around 6:40 which turned out to be a good thing… because the viewpoint I’d chosen, Park Point Overlook, wound up being something like 20 miles INSIDE the park. I had NO IDEA the park was that huge.

I mean check this out… isn’t it stunning?

After pausing to snap a pic of that beauty and marvel for a minute, I made the trek to Park Point, only to discover the gate closed due to the large amount of snow and ice.

Made sense, it’s at the top of a mountain.

There was just enough road cleared in the turn-off leading to the closed gate that I was able to pull my car in, turn it around and point it toward the sun, and start walking around to take pictures.

I love how you could see waves in the snow from the wind traversing the peaks.

Having witnessed a pretty spectacular sunrise, I headed deeper into the park in search of the cliff dwellings I’d read about the day before. Basically I picked a sign and followed its directions, stopped whenever there was a point of interest. Good thing I did it that way because while my dumb ass wisely brought coffee to perk her up in the pre-dawn hours, she did NOT bring water or snacks to sustain any kind of distance walking or hiking at altitude.

That bit of wizardry is how I discovered just how accessible the park is. Once you get to the top of the mesa, there are LOTS of turn-offs, handicapped parking, and wide, largely flat, paved trails you can take to see some pretty spectacular sights. I immediately thought of my stepmom, who sometimes struggles with mobility and walking long distance, and texted my dad to let him know this was something they could easily enjoy together if they decided to travel.

Here are some of my favorite sights along the numerous roadside accessible paths.

Eventually I realized it was after nine and I’d been in the park for several hours… and that it’d take me at least half an hour to get back to the hotel.

I headed back, managed to make it in time to pack up my stuff and Stella, and hit the road to Flagstaff on Super Bowl Sunday.

Because I was starting from Cortez, my GPS took me through these gorgeous windy back roads, passing through Navajo land, Red Mesa, Antelope Canyon, and more.

I’m definitely making time to visit Antelope Canyon while I’m in Flagstaff.

Interesting discovery while out on the back roads: whenever cell signal would cut out, my podcast app would stop streaming. I like playing My Favorite Murder while I’m driving – a bit of levity and a bit of learning makes the drive go by fast.

Turns out MFM puts my cat to sleep. As soon as they stopped talking when the signal cut out, she’d wake up and immediately start her panicked yowling. Once we got back in service range, the show would start playing again and Stella would eventually settle.

Karen and Georgia – doing a service to humanity (and my ears) by putting my cat to sleep on long road trips.



If you’re an aspiring freelancer who’s working up the courage to leave the day job… good news! I’m sharing all the things I WISH I’d known before making the leap so that hopefully your journey goes a little more smoothly than mine.

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