Wetherill Mesa can be considered to be the back country of Mesa Verde National Park because the touring loop goes through a long section of picturesque wide open spaces before arriving at the trailheads at the end of the line. The mesa top meadows roll over the edge of the peaks down to the forested valleys and in some places the views literally stretch out forever. The entire Cortez section of the Four Corners region can be seen clearly and the mountains next to Bears Ears all the way west in Utah can also be easily defined. Wetherill Mesa definitely is a place where the eagles soar in the blue skies and there are a few ancient Mesa Verde great house pueblos to discover in this area too.
There is a hiking trail that goes a moderate distance around the top of Wetherill Mesa where a few interesting ancient pueblo structures can be found. Long House is the most famous and this ancient site requires a permit and a ranger guided tour to visit. The guided tours can be booked at any of the visitor centers in this park and the schedules are posted, so the day can be planned around the event. There is a large canopy covered group area on Wetherill Mesa and facilities are available, so waiting for the Long House tour to start is relatively painless.
For those who have more time on their hands, there is an ancient great house pueblo that can be explored while waiting for the Long House tour to begin. The Step House is just a few hundred yards down a well marked trail near the canopy waiting area and this site can be experienced in less than one hour. The Step House is built on a ledge slope inside a natural alcove overhang, so it is naturally shielded from the elements and much of this ancient structure remains intact. Just like the name suggests, the floor plan of this complex includes several tier levels that rise to a crescendo at the main cornerstone building. There a few ground level kivas and one is located up top next to a small tower. The overall craftsmanship is very refined, which suggests that this one of many great house pueblos constructed later in the Mesa Verde Culture timeline.
There are also some good spots for a Step House overview vantage point to be found along the beginning of the Long House Trail. These overlooks only take a few minutes to check out and the views are well worth it. There is a lot to see and do in Mesa Verde National Park and it will take far more than just a couple of days to see it all. Wetherill Mesa is a full day trip in itself, so be sure to pack a picnic basket for the tour!
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