Wetherill Mesa is one of two sections of Mesa Verde National Park where roads and trails provide easy access to some of the finest cliff dwellings in the world. Wetherill Mesa is normally open to the public only during the summer season, but the park is reopening the area to visitors for a rare fall visit on Sunday, September 19.
Located along the western boundary of Mesa Verde, Wetherill Mesa includes some prime features, including Long House, the second largest cliff dwelling in the park; Step House; the Badger House Community; and, overlooks with views of Kodak House and the cliff dwelling known as Nordenskiöld #16. Park Rangers and volunteers will be available to answer questions and point out unique features of each site.
This section of the park closes for the season after the Labor Day weekend, but this year the park decided to experiment with some additional opportunities for visitors. "We wanted to try opening the Mesa on selected weekends during the fall season to biking and hiking," stated William Nelligan, Acting Superintendent. "Fall is a great time to enjoy the park, with cooler weather and the changing colors of autumn."
On Sunday, September 19, the entrance to the Wetherill Mesa Road will open at 9:00 a.m., and close at 3:30 p.m., all visitors must exit the Wetherill Road by 5:00 p.m. Visitors can drive down the Wetherill Mesa Road, park at the Wetherill kiosk, and ride or hike along the tram road to provides access to the area's key sites. You can download a park brochure map and other maps of the area at this link.
During the summer season, access to the Mesa beyond the kiosk and parking area is limited to hikers or those who ride a motorized tram that follows a one-way service road around the top of the mesa. Download the "Summer/Fall 2010 Visitor Guide" from the park website for additional details to help plan your visit; page 7 of that Guide includes information about trails and key points of interest at Wetherill Mesa.
Unless you're familiar with the terrain, place names can be a bit confusing, so download a copy of the park map to help with the navigation. Here's some essential information if you plan to take advantage of the upcoming one-day fall event.
You enter Mesa Verde at the north end of the park from US 160, and head south past the Morefield Campground. Due to the steep, winding road into the park, trailers and towed vehicles are not allowed beyond the campground; a parking area for such vehicles is available there.
Fifteen miles after entering the park, you arrive at the Far View Visitor Center (open early April to mid-October), the Far View Lodge (open spring until fall), and the junction with the road to Wetherill Mesa. If you continue straight ahead on the main park road for about five miles, you'll arrive at the beginning of the road network to the primary park attractions, including the famed ruins known as Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Spruce Tree House.
The entrance to the Wetherill Mesa Road is near the Far View Visitor Center; make that turn and you'll embark on a 12-mile drive that offers spectacular views of the Montezuma Valley. Pullouts are available to you can enjoy the view, but be aware this road has sharp curves and steep grades, so for safety reasons bicycles are not allowed on this road, and vehicles are restricted to less than 8,000 pounds and 25-feet in length. You should allow 45 minutes to an hour for this drive.
Just to avoid any confusion, bicyclists need to understand that the road to Wetherill Mesa will not be open for riding for the upcoming event; the cycling opportunity is on the tram road on the Mesa itself.
The park staff offers some additional information for the September 19 event: "Dogs are not allowed on the tram road. Please keep your safety in mind at all times, bring enough water and high energy snacks to keep yourself hydrated, and to maintain your energy level." The elevation on the Mesa is about 7,700 feet.
"You're welcome to bring your picnic lunch and drinking water. If you prefer, you may purchase a hotdog, chips and a drink for $5.00 from the Mesa Verde Community Club at the Wetherill Mesa kiosk, located at the end of the road." Here's one more bonus: If you mention that you are in the park to ride your bike or hike on Wetherill Mesa on the 19th, your entrance fee will be waived.
If this pilot program is successful, the park plans to continue to introducing new programs and opportunities for visitors and local community residents.