From the park entrance, at the north end of the park, you climb up rapidly to get onto the top of the mesa where the park sits. Soon you come to views over the valleys below.
Looking north from the northern edge of the system of mesas holding Mesa Verde National Park. Montezuma Valley in the distance.
Spruce Tree House is the only ruin which you can tour on your own. Not the largest ruin, but said to be the best preserved.
On our self-guided tour of Spruce Tree House.
Touring Spruce Tree House.
The ladders lead down into two reconstructed kivas, the sacred ceremonial rooms of the Ancestral Pueblans who lived here.
Down the ladder in one of the kivas.
A kiva without the reconstructed roof.
10 vertically oriented images stitched together side-by-side to capture most of the Spruce Tree House ruin in one image. The Ancestral Pueblans lived in the area from about 600 AD to the almost 1300 AD. Their departure was rather sudden in historical terms, and probably related to extended drought.
A last look back at Spruce Tree House.
Next we hiked out the Soda Canyon Overlook trail for about a mile to a point for views of other ruins.
Recent rains left puddles in this normally very arid area!
Balcony House, seen from the end of the Soda Point Overlook Trail. I will later take a ranger-guided tour of this ruin, including some pretty serious scrambling up and down the rock face to get to it.
Multi-image pano looking south over Soda Canyon.
Soda Canyon Overlook.
One of the many smaller, nameless ruins seen in the walls of Soda Canyon.
Another, very small ruin in the walls of Soda Canyon.
Smaller ruins in the walls of Cliff Canyon. As you can see, there were a lot of ruins, not just the big, famous ones.
This one was called Hemenway House. Note the fire devastation on the mesa above the ruin.
Next I took a ranger-guided tour of Balcony House. This national park sign shows the route of the tour. As you can see, it isn't for the timid or those with notable physical problems.
Up at the top as we begin our tour of Balcony House which in the cliff face below here.
Just some details observed as I started the Balcony House tour.
The first part of the descent ... not too bad!