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.
The forty-five mile trip takes four and a half hours to ride, as it is still coal-fired, and winds along narrow mountain paths and in and out of canyons. Historic narration is available on the trains for interested tourists. Both the Silverton and Durango ends of the line have railroad museums; the Durango Museum contains artifacts pertaining to the history of railroading, and the Silverton Museum displays a Baldwin Locomotive from 1902 in the original 1882 Depot.
Start in Bighorn Canyon if you’re an experienced whitewater rafter. You can go for days and camp on the side of the river for a true nature experience. Royal Gorge and Browns Canyon are locations friendly to experienced or new rafters, with opportunities to do a multi-day trip or just try it out for the day. Take the time to explore this beautiful part of Colorado and maybe find a new hobby.
Mesa Verde National Park, near Cortez, is perhaps the greatest archaeological wonder in the United States and a Unesco World Heritage site. Learn about the lives and history of the Ancestral Pueblo people as you visit Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House, incredible cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages built between 600 and 1300. There are also a few hiking trails available within the park, including one to a petroglyph panel.
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If you’re going to summit one of Colorado’s “fourteeners” – a mountain peak that’s at least 14,000ft (4,267m) high – there’s no better way to do it than on the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. The views you’ll see on the world’s highest cog railroad inspired the song America the Beautiful, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a gorgeous ride, which takes place year-round.
They also have ornamental displays of perennial favorites: daylilies, roses, and irises. The Mordecai Children’s Garden encourages hands-on exploration of soil and water and has stroller parking, picnic tables, and year-round programing. There are many gardens dedicated to the serenity of Japanese strolling gardens and bonsai, a South African garden with hardy plants from their steppe region, and a greenhouse overflowing with tropical and subtropical flowers.
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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.