During Big Trip planning, we had lined up a stop in Cortez. It was initially just a good place to stop between Zion and Moab. I was a little ashamed as a National Park buff to find out that Mesa Verde was right outside Cortez and to find out how much I didn't know about the place.
Mesa Verde National Park is home to over 600 cliff dwellings from 600-1200 AD when Ancient Pueblo people lived all over the area. We got to the park early and basically stayed all day. We took two long Ranger guided tours of amazingly preserved cliff dwellings (Cliff Palace and Balcony House) and then struck out on our own during the afternoon to self-guide around the Spruce Tree House and capped it off with a 3-ish mile mountain goat hike out to an old petroglyph site. Amazing! The canyons, the stone engineering, the knowledge of the Rangers, and seeing, touching and walking around the real places where people lived off the land for hundreds of years, and did so 700 years ago. Complete gem.
We were shot (another repeat of 90° temps and 7,000+ elevation), so we hopped in the car and blasted up to Moab. I had a little hope of trying to see slick rock like I had many years ago, but dinner and a dip in the pool ended the day. We will be up and at it again for another National Park right outside our front door.