22855
Colorado

Hiking Mesa Verde, Black Canyon & Great Sand Dunes National Parks

Learn about Southwest Colorado’s history and geology as local experts lead hikes through nature-made dunes and man-made ancient ruins in some of the state’s greatest national parks.
Rating (4.6)
Program No. 22855RJ
Length
9 days
Starts at
1,849
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9 days
8 nights
20 meals
8 B 7 L 5 D
DAY
1
Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Durango, CO
D
Best Western Plus Rio Grande Inn

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

Afternoon: We will meet at 5:00 p.m. in the hotel lobby for Program Registration and the Orientation session. At the Orientation 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. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: At a local restaurant, we will have plenty of choices to order plated meals from the menu, with soft drinks, coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

DAY
2
Hike Mesa Verde National Park
Durango, CO
B,L
Best Western Plus Rio Grande Inn

Activity note: Driving approximately 40 miles one way; about 1 hour each way. Walking up to 4 miles throughout the day; about 3 hours total; hard surface trails, some rocky and sandy trails; several short ladders for access into ruins.

Breakfast: At the hotel, we’ll have a hotel buffet featuring a variety of hot and cold items, plus milk, juice, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: Riding by van, we will make our way to Mesa Verde National Park and World Heritage Site. With our instructor and park rangers, we will bring history to life and explore these ancient North American cliff dwellings. As we hike with park rangers through the cliff dwellings, we’ll learn about the people who once lived here before setting out on self-led walks of surface ruins. In doing so, we will discover some of the rich and amazing history of the ancient Puebloans with a focus on architecture and culture.

Lunch: We’ll have boxed lunches including a pre-selected sandwich, chips, fruit, cookie, and bottled water.

Afternoon: Our exploration of Mesa Verde will continue with time for self-led visits to the museum and Visitor Center. At the end of the afternoon, we will reconvene and return to Durango.

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

Evening: At leisure. You may wish to explore historic downtown Durango.

DAY
3
Canyon of the Ancients and Hovenweep National Monuments
Durango, CO
B,L,D
Best Western Plus Rio Grande Inn

Activity note: Driving approximately 80 miles to National Monument, about 1 3/4 hours; return same distance and time. Hiking up to 5 miles; about 3 hours on primitive unpaved, rocky trails,

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: We will travel by vans and hike in Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, established in 2000 by presidential decree. The monument preserves the largest concentration of archaeological sites in the United States, primarily Ancestral Puebloan ruins. Over 6,000 individual archaeological sites have been identified within the monument. We will hike on Sand Canyon trail giving us access to two Pueblo archaeological sites called Castle Rock and Saddlehorn dating from 1250-1280 A.D. Following today’s first hike, we drive to Hovenweep National Monument, established in 1923 by President Warren G. Harding. Our next hike will explore a variety of ruins, including multi-story towers perched on canyon rims and balanced on boulders. Including a stop at the Monument Visitor Center, we will hike the Rim Trail while learning about the Ancestral Puebloans. Human habitation at Hovenweep dates to over 10,000 years ago. Most of the structures at Hovenweep date between A.D. 1200 and 1300 housing as many as 2,500 people. The masonry at Hovenweep is as skillful as it is beautiful. Even the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde rarely exhibit such careful construction and attention to detail. Some structures built on irregular boulders remain standing after more than 700 years. By the end of the 13th century, it appears a prolonged drought, possibly combined with resource depletion, factionalism and warfare, forced the inhabitants of Hovenweep to depart, migrating south to New Mexico and Arizona. Today's Pueblo, Zuni and Hopi people are descendants of this culture.

Lunch: Along the trail, we’ll have our boxed lunches.

Afternoon: Before returning to Durango, we will stop at the Visitor Center of the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument and its renowned archaeological museum. The museum displays artifacts from excavated ruins in the National Monuments and exhibits the culture and history of the Ancestral Pueblo people, and the methods that modern archaeologists use to reveal the past. The first historic reports of the abandoned structures at Hovenweep occurred during a Mormon expedition in 1854. The name "Hovenweep" is a Paiute/Ute word meaning "Deserted Valley" which was adopted by pioneer photographer William Henry Jackson in 1874. In 1917, J.W. Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution surveyed the area and recommended the structures be protected resulting in the Presidential declaration of the National Monument.

Dinner: At a local restaurant, we will order from the menu, with soft drinks, coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure. Be sure to prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
4
San Juan Mtns/Treeline Hike/Silverton/Ute History Museum
Montrose, CO
B,L,D
Red Arrow Inn and Suites

Activity note: Driving approximately 100 miles one way; total about 2.5 hours but with stops and hikes in between. Walking/hiking approximately 6 miles total throughout the day; about 4 hours; uneven, rocky trails.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet

Morning: We load our luggage and depart in vans climbing into the scenic San Juan Mountains north of Durango. We will hike a portion of the Colorado Trail near Molas Pass soaking in the scenic vistas of the high peaks of the Needle and Grenadier ranges. The Colorado Trail is a long-distance trail running for 486 miles from the mouth of Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver to Durango in Colorado. Its highest point is 13,271 feet above sea level, and most of the trail is above 10,000 feet. Following our hike, we will drive into the old Victorian mining town of Silverton.

Lunch: Picnic box lunch in Silverton Town Park

Afternoon: We’ll continue the drive to Montrose with various scenic overlook stops along the drive on CO State Highway 550, known as the Million Dollar Highway. On the way, we’ll make a stop at the Ute History Museum led by our expert staff and museum docents.

Dinner: At a local restaurant we will order from the menu, with soft drinks, coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase

Evening: At leisure

DAY
5
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Montrose, CO
B,L
Red Arrow Inn and Suites

Activity note: Driving approximately 13 miles one way; about 1 hour roundtrip. Walking/hiking approximately 6 miles total throughout the day; about 4 hours; uneven, rocky trails.

Breakfast: At the hotel, we’ll have a buffet featuring a variety of hot and cold items to choose from, plus milk, juice, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: Aboard our vans, we’ll travel to one of the nation’s newer national parks, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, established in 1999. Once we arrive, we will take several hikes along the South Rim of the canyon from a 1-mile loop to a 3-mile walk point to point. Embracing 20,766 acres, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park contains 12 miles of the deepest portion of the Gunnison Gorge. The Gunnison River has cut some of earth’s oldest base rocks to a depth of 2,700 feet. The top of the canyon narrows to about 1,100 feet, but down by the river the canyon narrows in places to about 40 feet. As we enjoy our visit, we’ll marvel at this natural wonder, a truly amazing sight.

Lunch: Along the trail, we’ll have boxed lunches.

Afternoon: We’ll complete our hikes and return by vans to Montrose in the mid-afternoon. On the way, we’ll make a stop at the Visitor Center for a rest stop and self-led visit to the exhibits and film. For those who wish, we will take a van to the Ute History Museum led by our expert staff and museum docents.

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

Evening: At leisure. Be sure to prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
6
Black Canyon, Curecanti Creek Trail Hike
Alamosa, CO
B,L,D
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Alamosa

Activity note: Driving approximately 160 miles; about 4 hours total; 1 hour in the morning and 3 in the afternoon, with stops. Hiking approximately 4 miles roundtrip; about 3 hours; unpaved, rocky trails elevation change of 900 feet.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: After checking out of the hotel, we’ll begin our transfer from Montrose to Alamosa, making a stop on the way for a hike on the Curecanti Creek Trail at Pioneer Point, which is within the Black Canyon and the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Descending from the high rim of the Upper Black Canyon of the Gunnison where scrub oak and sage dot the landscape, the trail then parallels Curecanti Creek as it makes its way toward Morrow Point Reservoir. Morrow Point Reservoir is at the end of the 2-mile descent into the canyon. In addition, the Curecanti Needle, a 700-foot spire, towers above at the trail's end. The Creek Trail is punctuated by a change in ecosystems as one descends into the canyon. Oak and sage on the rim gives way to conifers and water-loving plants such as Bog Birch and Rocky Mountain Maple. Ancient rock ranging in age from 1 billion to 1.8 billion years old makes up the trail and walls of the canyon. These are the oldest rocks or “basement” rocks found in Colorado, making up a formation called the Black Canyon Formation.

Lunch: Along the trail, we’ll have boxed lunches.

Afternoon: Upon completing our hike, we’ll continue our drive to Alamosa by way of the Scenic Highway over Cochetopa Pass and into the San Luis Valley. Along the way, we’ll see the amazingly rugged peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Range, beacons for early Spanish explorers.

Dinner: At a local restaurant, we will have plenty of choices to order plated meals from the menu, soft drinks, coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
7
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Alamosa, CO
B,L
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Alamosa

Activity note: Driving approximately 34 miles; about 1.5 hours roundtrip. Hiking approximately 6 miles total; about 4 hours; loose and packed sandy terrain on the dunes.

Breakfast: At the hotel, we’ll have a buffet featuring a variety of hot and cold items to choose from, plus milk, juice, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: Setting out from the hotel via vans, we’ll spend the day hiking at the 38,000-acre Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Starting at the Visitor Center, we’ll gain an understanding of the park through exhibits and film. Then, we will hike out onto the dunes and explore this unique geographic phenomenon led by our expert staff geologist. Too heavy to rise with the winds that carry it north-eastward across the flat, semiarid floor of the San Luis Valley, sand settles at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Range. The deposits that have accumulated over 15,000 years have resulted in a 39-square-mile dune, making it the largest in North America.

Lunch: Along the trail, we’ll have boxed lunches.

Afternoon: We’ll continue our hike until returning the vans for transfer back to Alamosa in the mid-afternoon.

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

Evening: At leisure. Be sure to prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
8
Wolf Creek Pass: Colorado Trail Segment, Farewell Dinner
Durango, CO
B,L,D
Best Western Plus Rio Grande Inn

Activity note: Driving approximately 150 miles; about 2.5 hours total throughout the day, with stop for hike; riding approx. 1.5 hours in the morning and 1 hour in the afternoon. Hiking between 5 and 6 miles depending on group interest and time available; between 2 to 3 hours; rocky gravel trail; elevation change of roughly 800 feet.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: On our last hiking day of the program we depart Alamosa, CO and drive westward towards Durango. After an hour of driving we take a quick rest stop in South Fork CO, which is in the foot hills of the eastern San Juan Mountains. We continue west on Hwy 160 for another 1/2 hour to legendary Wolf Creek Pass; made known to many in CW McCall’s 1975 country -trucker song called Wolf Creek Pass . From the Summit of Wolf Creek Pass we gear up and head out for a hike on part of the ~3100 mile long Continental Divide Trail (CDT). The Trail allows the group to access the Weminuche Wilderness Area of the Rio Grande National Forest. This is one of over 20 Wilderness designated areas in CO. Hiking is at an elevation of over 10,000’ along a semi forested meadows provides great views and cooler temperatures. After an out and back hike along the CDT we will have a picnic lunch at the trail head called Lobo Overlook.

Lunch: Along the trail, we’ll have boxed lunches.

Afternoon: After completing our hike, we’ll finish our transfer to Durango for a mid-afternoon arrival at the hotel for check-in. We proceed to Durango via Hwy 160, stopping for photo opportunities at Treasure Falls and at Chimney Rock National Monument.

Dinner: At a local restaurant, we will order plated meals from the many choices on the menu, plus soft drinks, coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure. Be sure to prepare for check-out and departures in the morning.

DAY
9
Program Concludes
Durango, CO
B

Activity note: Hotel check-out by 10:00 a.m.

Breakfast: Hotel 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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