I love Mesa Verde National Park. If I’m anywhere close, I’m likely driving up the mesa to spend more time in the first national park dedicated to the works of man. Ancestral Puebloan people lived on the mesa from around 600 AD to 1300 AD. I love doing the loop drives and hitting the trail. My favorite hike is the Petroglyph Point Loop. It’s 2.4 miles and packed with interesting archaeological sites, views and varied terrain. It does have a couple of steep sections and tight squeezes so don’t be fooled by the distance thinking it’s an easy hike. It’s more on the moderate side for me and would be moderately strenuously for a non-avid hiker. It’s worth the effort to see the park’s largest petroglyph panel.
Trail Stats: 2.4 mile loop below and on top of the mesa. It is moderate to moderately strenuous. Make sure you have water, snacks and good hiking shoes. There are multiple uneven stone staircases and narrow passageways on this trail in the 1.4 miles to Petroglyph Panel.
Getting There: Trailhead is below the museum on top of Chapin Mesa. It’s a 22-mile scenic drive from the visitor center to museum. It takes 30-40 minutes depending on traffic. You must register at trailhead or museum.
I got to the trailhead at 8:30am. Because of its close proximity to Spruce House, which is closed due to rock fall danger, the gate at the trailhead is locked at night. You have to register either at the trailhead or museum for this hike. After I registered, I grabbed on the trail guides. I always have a couple of single dollar bills on me when hiking in case I need it for a trail guide or something else. National park trail guides are chocked full of interesting information and highly recommend getting one if available on trails.
From the trailhead I had a great view of Spruce House as I followed the trail winding south below the edge of Chapin Mesa. You quickly come to a split, take the left fork marked Petroglyph Trail. That’s first stone staircase you’ll encounter on this hike. Shortly after that there’s the first great view of Spruce Canyon. You have views of that canyon and Navajo Canyon on this hike. Next up is a tight squeeze and by tight, I had to walk almost sideways to get through the narrow path through boulders.
You get wonderful panoramic view before descending another tight squeeze between boulder on stone stairs. When you get to the rock overhang where you have to hike leaning over and a little sideways, turn around. There’s an unmarked cliff dwelling up behind you.
The trail gets close to the edge for another wonderful view break moment if you want it before you hit another set of stone stairs followed by narrow passageway leading to another view spot. You go up more stone stairs then down some really uneven and narrow ones where I side stepped down. At the next rock overhang, you can walk up to a dwelling. Remember to visit to respect. Shortly after that there are some axe grooves. The ancestral puebloan people sharpened tool on the sandstone. There’s another tight squeeze quickly followed by more very narrow stone stairs. You get rewarded with another view break after that tough section and the petroglyphs are close.
At 1.4 miles into the hike, most of the hard work is done as you reach the petroglyph panel. It’s the largest in Mesa Verde. The guide I picked up at the trailhead gave me insight into the drawings thanks to four Hopi men who interpreted them in 1964. The swirls in this panel, and others I seen in places like Chaco Canyon, are called “sipapu” and represent the place ancestral puebloans emerged from the earth with that spot being the Grand Canyon. You will also see sipapus as small holes in kivas to symbolize the place. There are figurines representing the people and animals like a mountain lion. I had the petroglyph panel to myself and admired it for at least ten minutes. I was really fascinated with the drawing.
As you hiking back up to the top of the mesa, it’s a great are to take in the geology of the area, which began about 100 millions years ago. The trail levels out and you hike through a pygmy forest of junipers and pinons. Pymgy forests don’t have tall trees. You can walk out on the slick rock, but watch the edge as it’s a long way down. You finish up the 2.4-mile loop with a great view of the Spruce House.
Jennifer Broome has traveled extensively in Colorado, including spending a lot of time in the southwest corner of Colorado that’s part of the Four Corners region. Check out blog Four Nights in Durango for more things to do in the area.