Best of the West: Mesa Verde and Arches National Park - My Family Travels
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Nothing can compare to the thrill of packing the car, hitting the highway, and allowing a toddler to navigate. Oh yes, when my family travels we have one tradition: never choose the destination beforehand. This method has served us well over the years and our vacation to Colorado and Utah was no exception.

In August of 2011, my dad decided we would head west. A long day of driving along I-80W left us in a Holiday Inn Express located conveniently off the interstate in Lexington, Nebraska. The next morning we decided to make the ten hour drive to Durango, Colorado.


Looking out the windows of our car we watched as the grassy plains of Nebraska gradually transformed into the gorgeous red rock Colorado is known for. The land seemed to take on a mind of its’ own. Mountains reached up from the soil forcing our car to wind back and forth across its face with each switchback bringing on another picturesque view.

Our arrival in Durango was late, but we had no trouble finding well-kept vacant rooms in the local Best Western. The following morning we drove an easy forty-five minutes to Mesa Verde National Park. During the autumn months, the entrance fee for a private vehicle is $15.00. Mesa Verde offers splendid views of the countryside and access to some of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the United States. A long serpentine road takes you up into the mountains, dropping you off at the Far View Visitor Center where you can purchase tickets for tours of Cliff Palace and/or Balcony House for $3.00 each. We obtained tickets for both.

While waiting for our time slot, we were able to take a self-guided tour of Spruce Tree House. This smaller cliff dwelling offers a chance to climb down into a reconstructed Kiva, or meeting place for the ancient Puebloans. Spruce Tree House was a definite must and the tours offered for Cliff Palace and Balcony House were extremely educational. Overall, the park was certainly worth the fee.

After spending a few days in Durango and the Four Corners Region, we drove three hours to Moab, Utah. We stayed at a La Quinta Inn in town with poor service. I don’t recommend it. There are other hotels in Moab that are affordable and better maintained.  Overall, Moab is a beautiful town with highly acclaimed off-road trails. If you don’t own an ATV or Jeep there are many for rent.  I would suggest buying a guidebook as it is easy to get lost and some of the trails are dangerous.

I highly recommend taking a day trip to Arches National Park. A weekly vehicle pass costs only $10.00 and the park can be seen from car or on foot. The stunning red rock arches are a must see. If you so choose, a hike up to Delicate Arch offers magnificent views of the countryside. Take lots of water. The climb is steep and tiring, but the scenery is worth the hassle. The arch has appeared in many textbooks and stands as a gorgeous reminder of Mother Nature’s handiwork.

Last year, our trip out west served as a reminder of the natural beauty our nation has to offer. I would highly recommend this trip to anyone looking for quality time with their family and a chance to unwind. It is truly a once in a lifetime experience you will never regret.

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