Byway #18 – Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway Tour by Sport Bike, Auto and 4 x 4 – Trail of the Ancients


  • Road: paved, mostly straight – southwest style
  • Round-trip from Denver:  929 miles
  • Length of Byway: 116 miles
  • Vehicle types: car, motorcycles – mostly cruiser, 4×4 off-roading all along byway
  • Elevation change:  4660 to 7000 feet above sea level
  • Location: South Western Colorado



I’ve long appreciated the different Native American cultures…maybe even envied some of them. Yes, I said envied. I think that’s because there are some native cultures which strive to remain peaceful. The Hopi are one of these cultures. The Hopi live in the northeastern corner of Arizona and are descended from the ancestral Puebloans who once lived in the four corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. Mesa Verde, along the Trail of the Ancients, is one place where some of the puebloan ancestors had lived. And on this particular day, Thursday, May 23rd, the national park was having a grand opening ceremony of the brand new visitor and research center. I just could not pass up this opportunity.

Mesa Verde’s Visitor and Research Center Grand Opening

mesa-verde-research-center_052313-72On the third day of my birthday celebration in Durango, I awoke early in the morning, around 6:30, without an alarm. I’m just a freak that way. I took my shower, made coffee and ate breakfast listening to the birds waking up outside. I put on a few layers of clothes, because the morning air was crisp and cool in Durango and even though I knew where I was going would be a lot warmer; I still don’t like being cold riding my sport bike.

I loved riding westward from Durango to Mesa Verde. The sky was a brilliant blue and there was just the slightest hint of a breeze. When I finally arrived at the brand new visitor center, I was quite surprised to see so many other people in the parking lot. Actually, there were so many people that had also come there, that there were numerous rangers in the lot directing traffic to open parking spots. I got there early enough though, that the spot I got still had many open spots next to it.

When I dismounted my bike, a red truck pulled up next to me and a Native American stepped out. One of the rangers who was walking by recognized him and they talked. I overheard the ranger ask if he had seen the exhibit and remarked how beautiful it was. I was so very curious about the whole interchange, but felt like I would be imposing if I just barged in on the conversation. So, I dug out my camera and extra lens, popped them into my handy small backpack and went on my merry way.

I was actually quite impressed with this grand opening. There was a huge white tent outside of the building with rows of chairs and tables set up inside and being prepared for the influx of invited guests and dignitaries. While those who were not invited for the special ceremony, mostly park visitors, went inside the center to purchase park tour tickets, books and other knick-knacks, as well as view the different exhibits of the inhabitants of the area some 800 years ago.

In front of the entrance to the visitor center stands a beautiful sculpture created by a renowned artist: Edward J Fraughton. This sculpture is quite spectacular; you can see it in a couple of the photos I took. My only wish is that I had been able to get the right angle to actually capture the face of this sculpture. Everything else about it seems so very realistic; from the muscle tone, to the basket on his back, to the toe-holds. I just kept smiling as I sat there and watched people coming, going and chatting with the park rangers and talking about the exhibit, the sculpture, the new center and the park.

I decided to go inside and check out a few of the exhibits as well as purchase a map of the Navajo lands of the four corners region. I wanted to be certain that I did not get lost on my way back from Four Corners and toward the Hovenweep Ntl. Monument later in the day. I was told by one of the rangers that this particular map was very detailed and accounted for all of the roads that went through the reservations in the area.

A walk through Spruce Tree House

cliff-dwelling_052313-72At first, I thought I could get by with only riding my sport bike along the main road of the mesa. I soon realized that was not going to be enough. I wanted to stop at almost each and every stop along the mesa to view the different dwellings of the ancients. I knew that would have taken me all day, but I did make it a point to walk down to the Spruce Tree House and stop at a couple of the overlooks afterward to view the other ancient dwellings. When I walked down to the Spruce Tree House, there were a ton of people down there. I was tickled to see a park ranger carrying her baby in a papoose as she spoke with park visitors. There was even a Junior Ranger im the crowd who kept running back and forth to the different openings of the dwelling and pointing out all the different things he found in his ranger book to his friend.

Lunch at Far View Terrace

Ok, I admit it, I ate lunch out. I couldn’t help myself. I even bought a few trinkets to bring home to my daughters and my husband. Yeah, I’m just a tourist. The Far View Terrace is a nice tourist restaurant on top of the mesa which has quite an amazing view of not just the mesa, but also the canyons all the way southward to New Mexico (on a very clear day of course).

Riding to Four Corners

four-corners_052313-72After lunch, I hopped back on my bike and headed toward Cortez before heading southward toward Four Corners. Now, it was already after noon and the wind had picked up considerably. Not only that, but I had left the hills and trees of the Durango area far behind me, so I was completely exposed to the elements. By my guess, the wind gusts were probably between 35 and 50 mph. Not enough to scare me back to Durango, but certainly enough for me to lean against the gusts and hang on tight to my handlebars, especially considering that my sport bike is light in comparison to something like a Honda Goldwing. My bike’s weight is somewhere around 425 pounds. The weight of a Goldwing is 900+ pounds, so the Goldwing is a whole lot more stable against wind gusts.  So, needless to say, I was the only person on a motorcycle along the road to Four Corners.

As chance would have it though, when I parked at Four Corners, I saw two Goldwings parked as well. It turned out that the people riding those Goldwings were tourists of the French persuasion…maybe continental French, as in from Quebec, but they most certainly were speaking French as they walked around the area and enjoyed the attraction.

Hovenweep National Monument

zed-hovenweep_052313-72After I snapped a few photos of the four corners, I hopped back on my bike to head back north to find the Hovenweep turn-off. As I rode, I passed the Goldwingers and found the turn-off for Hovenweep. Luckily for me, the road to Hovenweep was paved. I found out later that this road used to be only dirt. Oh and something else about this area is that this is Navajo country. It’s dry and arid, but not without its beauty…shrubs, hills and small canyons are a big part of this landscape.

One thing about the whole southwestern part of the state that I was riding in is that when the wind kicks up, the visibility goes down a bit because of the dirt that gets stirred up into the atmosphere. This did not bode well for landscape shots, but close-ups were still doable.

When I arrived at Hovenweep National Monument, it was pretty late in the day…around 4’ish. Still, I wanted to see the area where the ancients had lived. The full tour of the little canyon would have been around two and a half miles and although this was a doable hike, I just did not have the time, nor the energy. I opted for a half-mile walk to a viewpoint where I could see a good portion of the canyon and the still-standing structures from hundreds of years ago. In a few shots, you will notice the mortar and small stones pushed into the mortar used to build these structures. I wondered about the people here long ago and how they learned how to build so well.

As a last note on Hovenweep…this is a national park and although maybe a tad remote, the monument and park buildings are kept up very well. Sometimes because of cost, this does not happen in places, but I was impressed with the rangers, park building and the trail around the Little Ruin Canyon.

Back to Durango and to see my hubby…but first…my impressions of this small piece of SW Colorado

Never having been out in this part of Colorado and Utah, I wasn’t quite sure about the roads and directions. I looked closely at the Navajo map that I had bought at Mesa Verde and kept a mental picture of it as I rode out of Hovenweep. I did not want to backtrack, because going back the same way, meant adding a lot more time to my day. So, I turned right instead of left at the national monument’s entrance and followed the road northeastward.

A big part of this area seemed to be part of the monument, because of the signs I saw along the way. There were quite a few turnoffs to different canyons, but all of these turnoffs were dirt roads. As I kept riding northeast, the road seemed in disrepair, but not completely un-rideable. There was no center line and no shoulders and some bumps in spots, but it was still paved. Then, something changed. I rounded a corner and the pinyon-juniper trees that lined the road dropped away and I was surrounded by a vast farmland. I’m not completely sure, but I believe what was growing was alfalfa.  Another distinctive change was the air temperature. It had dropped significantly, as if the wind blowing across the vast fields was drawing upon the moisture in those fields and creating a cool breeze. Again…I was just a tad awe-struck.

Now typically, when you drive along farmland, the roads that divide the farms are dirt roads, but for some reason, out here, they were paved. I was quite pleased with this and was able to reach Hwy491 without any trouble at all. As I rode south on this road, I noticed a sign that read CSU Southwest Colorado Research Center. Then it struck me that maybe all those fields had something to do with the university. CSU is renowned for its agricultural research.

Back to Durango and to see my hubby

Ok, now it’s time to see my hubby. I made one more stop by Dolores, which is the northern end of the Trail of the Ancients. I would have wanted to also stop at the Anasazi Heritage Center just north of Cortez, but it closes at 5 pm and the time was already 6:30. So, I kept on riding back to Durango and made no more stops until I reached my destination…my ‘home away from home’.

As I dismounted my bike and removed my helmet, I heard my husband whistle from the balcony. It was such a wonderful sound indeed. After removing my other motorcycle gear and dragging my tired body upstairs to shower away the day’s dirt, we sat on the balcony to share our day and enjoy the late evening breeze.

The next day was my ‘relaxation’ day…also my 49th birthday. And my plan was to not ride my motorcycle, but to hike the trail to Bridal Veil Falls in Telluride.

2 thoughts on “Byway #18 – Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway Tour by Sport Bike, Auto and 4 x 4 – Trail of the Ancients

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