Mesa Verde-drive by- quick shot advice?

Started Apr 3, 2013 | Discussions
BobT Forum Pro • Posts: 13,205
Mesa Verde-drive by- quick shot advice?

Would like some advice on a couple "must see" options within Mesa Verde National Park.

But we'll only be in that area for a matter of hours.  Probably from around 3pm one day, until 9am the next....with a lay over in Cortez, Co.  in between.  I'm wanting a couple of good photographic vantage points, for taking quick shots of the cliff dwellings before moving on to Cortez for the evening.  It would be possible to return in the morning of the next day, but would be best if we didn't do so, because of a long drive that day.

So any help and advice would be appreciated.  Thanks.

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minniev Senior Member • Posts: 2,962
Re: Mesa Verde-drive by- quick shot advice?

I've only been once but that was just 2 wks ago so I'll give it a whirl since no once else has. Your biggest problem is that when you get to Mesa Verde, you still have a hour to go before you can get anywhere you want to be - round the mesa till you get to the top, a slow slog, even with little traffic due to the curvy road. All 3 major areas (balcony house, spruce tree house and cliff palace) should be open by now, but it appears that balcony and cliff require you to be on a scheduled, ticketed guided tour and the areas are open 9-5 so you may run into some challenges- it it will take you some tight planning. These 2 areas were not open 2 weeks ago so I contented myself with spruce tree house where I had a very short hike & I could wander at will. It's a nice ruin and yields nice pictures especially if you want detail and frame filling shots as you're right in it. If you do spruce tree be sure to go down the ladder into the kiva and take your flash.  There are quite a few ruins that have metal building covers on them, don't bother with these. Instead, go down Mesa top loop to the Sun Palace stop. Sun Palace is easy to shoot, you're right in it, but it's also on an edge of the mesa where you can locate a good tripod spot to shoot cliff house and other villages with a long lens across the gorge. With this scenario you would be shooting towards the east so plan accordingly. I only had mid morning till noon there and this was not good for me. I bet it would be better late in the day where you could get good warm light on the face of the ruins. Get a map and visitor guide from the website for fresh info and help with direction/time of day orientation. The new visitors' center at the first entrance and the old museum near spruce tree are great, but you may not have time to spend there.

OP BobT Forum Pro • Posts: 13,205
Re: Mesa Verde-drive by- quick shot advice?


That is exactly what I was asking for.  Thank you so much.

It really takes an hour to get from the entrance of the park to the "good stuff" down south?  Are there photo ops along the way, or basically a twisty-turny drive to get there?

The shot that I especially want is that typical view of the face of the cliff and ruins.  I'm thinking that would be the one that you mentioned having a better sun angle later in the day.  Now, can you be more precise as to where I would need to be when taking that shot?  I have an on-line map of the park, but see no mention of a gorge.

Then, we are proceeding to the red-rock areas of southern Utah following a couple day stop at the South Rim of Grand Canyon.  Do you know of any other indian ruins (especially cliff-like dwellings) that I might encounter as we navigate the red-rock National Parks.  I recall reading of something like that somewhere, but can not recall where.

Again, thanks.  You've been most helpful.

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minniev Senior Member • Posts: 2,962
Re: Mesa Verde-drive by- quick shot advice?

Yes it takes almost an hour, don't stop, nothing there. Most has suffered repeated burns, not pretty.

On the park map look at the parking area at the right edge of Sun Temple. Look to the right of that  and you'll see the cliff palace clearly marked and a wiggle of a creek in between. that is the gorge you'll be shooting over. Don't expect to see the water your your position, it's too far down. This thing is more of a regular mountain than a mesa. You can walk to find a spot or move the car to find better but it's a very short bending stretch of unmissable open area oneway roadside where you can spot various ruins across the gorge. Some will face due west with others slightly north south But you have clear shots at the face. Think long lens though.

There are ruins everywhere. My favorite is Hovenweep, which we did on way to Arches from monument valley. Again, good light is best. It's a national monument so well maintained, easy trail around rim and you see whole thing.  If I could have added one it would have been House On Fire near Blanding but we didn't learn of it till last day. Local guide said be at site at 10 am, best in spring months, for the optical illusion - works like yosemites horsetail fall in february.. Also Cedar Mesa in same area was suggested by another local, looked easier to find, maybe a state park. But no fire.

I'm sure there's many more..

Dont know anything about ruins around south rim of GC.

ps if you go to Canyonlands don't miss sunrise at Mesa arch, it is has good as it gets.

Gallopingphotog Regular Member • Posts: 251
Couple suggestions

As M mentioned, Spruce Tree House is the most accessible for going through. But you can get a decent image of the overall cliff dwelling from the building at the head of the trail. Another place that makes a good distance shot is Square House. You can get the picture from the road pulloff. The NPS map should have it marked. I will try to attach them to this post. Mine are not very good photos; we were there many years ago when all I had was a very basic p&s. And it was summer, mid-day and the light was totally brutal. Have fun!

Spruce Tree House from the top of the trail

Square Tower from the road pulloff.

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KENTGA Veteran Member • Posts: 5,969
Thanks for the info

I hope to get there later this year.


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OpticsEngineer Veteran Member • Posts: 6,389
Re: Mesa Verde-drive by- quick shot advice?

Thanks for taking the time to post this.  I am planning a trip there next year.

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