Welcome to the Sandstrom’s Amazing Vacation Report, 2015 Edition!
I wanted to give a brief overview of, as well as some completely free advertising for, the places we visited on our vacation this year. If you are looking for information, or are planning to visit Mesa Verde National Park (especially with kids!) this is for you!
We live in Emporia, KS, and every year for our vacation we pick a destination and a budget and hit the road with our family of 5. This year our kids were 11, 8, and 3 as we headed out on our adventures in the Southwest: Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, and Petrified Forrest National Parks.
Having a long drive ahead of us, and a rapidly aging mini-van, we rented a Ford Edge from Avis Rentals in Topeka, KS. With a super-sweet deal, our two week rental came to just under $500. We needed a car with enough space in the rear seat for three across without sibling bloodshed. The Edge was perfect. Car seat in the middle, both sisters still had room to breathe.
Staying with friends and family along the way is priceless! Thanks to mom for being our first stop in Wichita, and Trish for hosting us as we passed into Colorado!
Our first destination was Mesa Verde National Park. We found a great campground less than 10 minutes from the park entrance. Ancient Cedars Campground is under new management and has been undergoing renovations. We stayed in one of their camper cabins at $65 a night base rate plus $3.50 for our two older girls. The mattresses are all new pillow-tops, a wonderful surprise for us having slept on less than stellar mattresses at other campgrounds. Each cabin has a mini fridge, air conditioning, a counter-top, and access to the campground WiFi. The pool was a nice treat after hiking each morning, and the mini-golf course looked like fun.
In the park, we spent the first day on Chapin Mesa, the main tourist areas including the museum and easiest to access cliff dwelling, Spruce Tree House. Wanting to make sure we had a safe and fun trip, I had done some research on families visiting the park with small children. Much scare-mongering was to be had with people warning not to even think about taking little kids into the park. I would say that the guided tours are not for little ones, that is my judgment since they require a lot of ladder climbing (one on open cliff faces, the other with a 32 foot ladder). The Spruce Tree House, however is completely accessible and not a bit scary. Here we are standing in Spruce Tree House, thanks to the awesome park ranger who took our picture!
Kathrina was our super-duper photographer, documenting what we saw. If she’s not in a picture, she was behind the camera!
While visiting National Parks, our girls like to participate in the Junior Ranger Programs. Kids pick up a booklet and complete learning activities to earn a badge. Here is Bella sporting her newly earned Mesa Verde Junior Ranger Badge.
Kathrina even snapped a picture of me climbing down the ladder into a kiva that is open to the public. It was pretty dark down there!
Our second day took us to the other side of the park, Wetherhill Mesa. We took the hike down the side of the mesa to Step House.
We came prepared for the hike down to Step House, which has steep drops to the side in places along a switchback trail. If you have trouble with heights, Rich would tell you it is doable, just stay to the inside of the trail. The path is wide, and paved, and our three kids walked the whole way down and back with little complaint of tiredness. Just to be on the safe side, we had brought a kid leash for our 3-year-old. It made us feel a little safer, holding his hand and having a backup plan in case he did something unpredictable.
The Ancestral Pueblo People were amazing, surviving and thriving as they lived on top of the mesas and then as they moved under the cliffs. From what they left behind, we see their ingenuity, craftsmanship and artistry.
Two days in the park, we could easily go back for a week in a few years to explore the other cliff dwellings and hike some trails with spectacular views.
Overall, my assessment is that Mesa Verde is very family-friendly. Do your research and come prepared to see the beauty of the earth as well as learn about a people who were masters of survival!