Mesa Verde has been inhabited since 7500 BC by nomadic tribes, and the experts estimate that the first pueblos were built in 650 AD. The impressive cliff dwellings that still bring visitors to the park were built in 1200 AD. See the Cliff Palace and spend some time learning about these native americans at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. Don’t forget to explore the Mesa Top Loop Road for some excellent viewpoints and canyon overlooks.
The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad starts in Antonito, Colorado, and runs all the way through to Chama, New Mexico, spanning a track of 64 miles. Take a trip back in time on this old fashioned, narrow gauge heritage railroad and enjoy the countryside as you pass through it. You’ll have a front seat view of Toltec Gorge, the inspiration for the name of this railroad.
Located in Central Colorado, Bishop Castle has quickly become one of the most popular roadside attractions in the state. In 1959, fifteen-year-old Jim Bishop dropped out of school and purchased a 2.5 acre piece of land for $450. This piece of land was located alongside southern Colorado’s San Isabel National Forest. In order to earn enough money to purchase the land, Bishop worked random side jobs and helped his father, Willard. Although Bishop funded the land purchase, his parent’s legally owned the land since Bishop was only a teenager.
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Cliff Palace and Balcony House are ancient cliff dwellings that the ancestral Pueblo Indians inhabited in the 12th and 13th centuries. Located in Mesa Verde National Park, both are World Heritage Sites and National Monuments. Balcony House had forty-five rooms and two kivas (ovens), and it can only be accessed on ranger-guided tours. Tour participants must climb a thirty-two foot ladder and then crawl through a twelve-foot tunnel to access Balcony House.
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It is a place of wonder, especially considering that Jim Bishop himself has laid every stone and worked every piece of wrought iron. Bishop Castle is open every day, and admission is always free, although there is a donation box if you wish to contribute. Construction is ongoing and not sealed off; parents are advised to keep a close eye on their youngsters while at the castle.
Visit any of the 5 visitors centers in the park; one is registered on the National Registry of Historic Places and was designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. There is a variety of landscapes to explore, from mountains to mountain tundra, and a wide array of wildlife. Whether you come for a day and do a short hike, or stay and camp out to go on longer treks, the scenery will impress you. Don’t miss the Arapaho National Forest or Indian Peaks Wilderness.