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Mesa Verde National Park and the Durango and Silverton Railroad

Program No. 1263RJ
From a historic train ride to a legacy of mining, from ancient Puebloan architecture to the inspiring landscapes of Mesa Verde National Park, learn the story of the Four Corners region.

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At a Glance

The Ancestral Puebloans chose Mesa Verde, now a world heritage site, as their home over a millennium ago, building an elaborate culture among the canyons and cliffs. Learn about these prehistoric Puebloan people as you trace park history from its discovery to the Native Americans who share Four Corners country today, and hear about railroad and Colorado mining history during a full-day field trip aboard the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
Activity Level
Keep the Pace
Walking up to one-half mile over varied terrain. Must be able to climb short ladder at ruins. Elevations up to 9,700 feet.

What You'll Learn

  • Study the cultural, artistic, engineering and farming advancements of these prehistoric people during visits to ruins on the mesa-top and to view cliff dwellings at Spruce Tree House and Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde’s showpiece.
  • Learn about the CCC boys at Mesa Verde, railroads, miners, cowboys and Navajo inhabitants of this Western region.
  • Ascend nearly 3,000 feet by steam train through some of the most dramatic terrain ever traversed by rail; return to Durango on the Million Dollar Highway.
Featured Expert
All trip experts
Profile Image
Jerry Cohoe
Artist Jerry Cohoe is the son of a Diné (Navajo) medicine man from Tocito, New Mexico. His mother is from the Bit'ahnii (leaf) clan and his father from the 'Ashiihi (salt people) clan. Jerry’s interest in art began as a child when he would watch his mother weave intricate traditional Diné rug designs or witness ritualistic sand paintings during his father's healing ceremonies. Jerry's work reflects his Diné heritage and most of his studies are framed in the setting of the Great Diné Nation.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

Profile Image of Jerry Cohoe
Jerry Cohoe View biography
Artist Jerry Cohoe is the son of a Diné (Navajo) medicine man from Tocito, New Mexico. His mother is from the Bit'ahnii (leaf) clan and his father from the 'Ashiihi (salt people) clan. Jerry’s interest in art began as a child when he would watch his mother weave intricate traditional Diné rug designs or witness ritualistic sand paintings during his father's healing ceremonies. Jerry's work reflects his Diné heritage and most of his studies are framed in the setting of the Great Diné Nation.
Profile Image of Trina Lindig
Trina Lindig View biography
Trina Lindig grew up at Mesa Verde National Park as the daughter of a Park Ranger. She also became a Park Ranger and spent time at Mesa Verde and Grand Canyon, where her husband was a park administrator. Trina has been associated with Road Scholar for more than 20 years and has coordinated programs at both the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde.
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While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of our published materials, programs are typically advertised more than a year prior to their start date. As a result, some program activities, schedules, accommodations, personnel, and other logistics occasionally change due to local conditions or circumstances. Should a major change occur, we will make every effort to alert you. For less significant changes, we will update you during orientation. Thank you for your understanding.
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6 days
5 nights
12 meals
5 B 3 L 4 D
Check-in, Program Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Mesa Verde, CO
Far View Lodge

Activity note: Hotel check-in available from 3:00 p.m.

Afternoon: Program Registration. 4:30 – 5:15 p.m. After you have your room assignment, come to the Road Scholar table in the hotel lobby to register with the program staff and get your welcome packet containing the up-to-date schedule that reflects any changes, other important information, and to confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet when you check in

Dinner: At the restaurant inside the lodge, we’ll have plated meals from a select menu. There will be several entrees to choose from, as well as dessert. Soup or salad is included and vegetarian and gluten-free choices are available. Coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: Orientation: After dinner, the Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. Unless otherwise specified, transportation will be provided primarily by motorcoach, which requires going up/down a few steps when getting on/off. Classes will take place in the hotel meeting room. Please indicate before the start of the program if you require a vegetarian or gluten-free diet. Periods in the schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may be changed due to local conditions/circumstances. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Mesa Verde Historical & Archaeological Overview
Mesa Verde, CO
Far View Lodge

Activity note: Walking about 1 mile throughout the day; paved pathways with slight grades at elevation of roughly 7,000 feet; be sure to stay hydrated and take your time. Getting on/off motorcoach often; driving approximately 6 miles on Chapin Mesa’s loop road; about 4 hours including stops at overlooks and ruin sites.

Breakfast: At the lodge, we’ll have a breakfast buffet featuring a selection of hot and cold entrees, plus coffee, tea, juice, milk and water.

Morning: A regional expert will join us in the lodge meeting room to give a presentation introducing us to the geography and pre-history of Mesa Verde. They will cover how and why the first people came to the Mesa, how they adapted to its unique conditions and environment, and how these ancestral Puebloan people fit into the larger economic and social network of the region. Mesa Verde National Park has been declared a World Heritage Site. Some 4,400 archaeological sites have been recorded, including villages built on the Mesa top.

Lunch: At an eatery close to the lodge, we’ll have multiple choices in a cafeteria setting including vegetarian and gluten-free choices, plus coffee, tea and water; other beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: We’ll board the bus and head for the Mesa Top Loop, which provides a sense of the expanse of Mesa Verde. Along the way, we will stop and walk a short distance to view Spruce Tree House from beautiful vantage points. Built between 1211 and 1278 CE, Spruce Tree House was home to about 80 people within its roughly 130 rooms and 8 kivas, making it the third-largest cliff dwelling on the Mesa. Afterwards, we’ll get back on the bus and transfer for a field trip to the Chapin Mesa Museum and view its historic dioramas depicting human habitation in the Mesa Verde area from 13,000 BCE to 1200 CE. These 5 dioramas were painstakingly built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid-1930s. Our Group Leader, a former park ranger at Mesa Verde, will interpret the museum and its exhibits before allowing some time for personal exploration.

Dinner: Lodge restaurant plated meal.

Evening: In our meeting room, a local expert will join us to discuss topics ranging from natural to human history, the Civilian Conservation Corps at Mesa Verde, Nordenskjold at Mesa Verde, or another regional topic.

Navajo Culture, Through an Artist's Eyes, Free Time
Mesa Verde, CO
Far View Lodge

Activity note: Classroom-based morning. Walking distance and activity level during free afternoon dependent on personal interest.

Breakfast: Lodge buffet.

Morning: In the hotel meeting room, we’ll be joined by a Navajo (Diné) artist and hear his story of his family growing up on the reservation, living and surviving in both the Navajo Nation and the United States. He will discuss his emergence as an artist who honors his family and culture with his detailed and evocative portraiture.

Lunch: At a local eatery.

Afternoon: Free Time. Take this opportunity for personal independent exploration to see and do what interests you most. Please refer to the list of Free Time Opportunities. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. You may wish to visit the Far View Sites, the Chapin Mesa Museum, the Visitors' Center Museum, Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum, Mancos/Cortez, some of the lesser-known sites within the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, or just relax with the magnificent view of the Four Corners region from your balcony.

Dinner: Tonight's meal will be on your own to choose from the park's various dining options.

Evening: Afterwards, we’ll gather in the lodge meeting room with our Group Leader to prepare tomorrow’s Durango and Silverton rail field trips.

Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Million Dollar Highway
Mesa Verde, CO
Far View Lodge

Activity note: Walking about 2 miles throughout the day; paved and unpaved walkways, sidewalks. Elevations between 6,500 and 9,300 feet. Dress for high elevation conditions in Silverton with sun protection and cooler temperatures. Driving approximately 150 miles total for the day; about 3.5 hours; bus to Durango and return to Mesa Verde National Park; motorcoach from Silverton to Durango. Train ride is about 45 miles; approx. 3.5 hours.

Breakfast: En route to Durango aboard the bus, we’ll have bagged breakfasts including fruit, a pastry, a hard-boiled egg; coffee and tea included.

Morning: Boarding the bus, we’ll get an early start in order to make it to the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad’s station before the departure of our steam train to Silverton. This is a classic rail journey with spectacular San Juan Mountain scenery. Originally constructed to haul ore including gold and silver, the rail line has been delighting sight-seers since the late 1800s. This rail line is unique since it employs steam locomotives dating from the 1920s and uses coal exclusively to power the engine. Throughout the rail journey, conductors, brakemen and volunteer ‘rail rangers’ roam the train to answer questions and provide information on the history of the Durango and Silverton region, natural history and geographic features seen on the journey, the rail line, and the train’s operation. Our Group Leader will also be able to provide information and answer questions about the train and the sights.

Lunch: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like in Silverton. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Afternoon: Enjoy some time for independent exploration in the mining village of Silverton with its Victorian-style buildings and alpine views of the surrounding peaks. We’ll then rendezvous at a predetermined time and place to board the motorcoach for the 2-hour ride on the Million Dollar Highway over Coal Bank Pass (elevation 10, 640 feet) and down past the Durango Mountain Resort into Durango. Upon arrival, we’ll have an opportunity to enjoy a bit more independent time to explore the hip mountain town of Durango. We’ll then regroup and visit the Toh-Atin Gallery in town and hear from a local expert about the native arts and exquisite Navajo rugs on display.

Dinner: At the historic Strater Hotel, we’ll choose plated entrées from a select menu, with coffee, tea and water; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: We’ll then return to the lodge. The remainder of the evening will be at leisure.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde Historic District
Mesa Verde, CO
Far View Lodge

Activity note: Walking about 2 miles throughout the day; some uneven surfaces and steps indoors. Hike at Cliff Palace, at an elevation of 7,000 feet, involves climbing five, 8-10 foot (2.6-3 meter) ladders on a 100-foot (30 meter) vertical climb. Getting on/off motorcoach; driving approximately 27 miles throughout the day; about 1.5 hours total.

Breakfast: Lodge buffet.

Morning: After arriving via motorcoach, we’ll hike to explore Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America and a site recognized by people around the world for its beauty, well-preserved condition, and historical significance. With 150 rooms and 23 kivas, as many as 100 people may have inhabited Cliff Palace, which is also thought to have served social, administrative and ceremonial purposes. A Mesa Verde National Park Ranger will interpret this World Heritage Site throughout our exploration.

Lunch: At a local eatery, we’ll have a plated lunch with soft drinks, coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: We’ll then journey to the park’s historic district for a walkabout where our Group Leader will provide insight into her life growing up in Mesa Verde. Afterwards, we’ll board the motorcoach and return to the lodge with time to freshen up before dinner.

Dinner: At the lodge, we’ll enjoy a delicious plated farewell dinner among our fellow participants with standard beverages; other beverages available for purchase. Share some of your favorite experiences from the program with new Road Scholar friends.

Evening: We’ll then gather for a program wrap-up session with our Group Leader to recap our time together before enjoying an evening of entertainment and celebration of cowboy songs of the West with local entertainers. Be sure to prepare for check-out and departure in the morning.

Program Concludes

Activity note: Hotel check-out by 11:00 a.m.

Breakfast: Lodge buffet. This concludes our program.

Morning: If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!

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