Fog, Rain, Sleet, and Snow

Mesa Verde National Park, Part 3

Today we decide to explore Wetherill Mesa and a few viewing points we missed previously.

Before the main road into the National Park splits into 2 mesas, we pull into the Geologic Overlook.

And this is what we view as we look down and beyond…

Nothing but fog…

Close up, the shrubs, trees, and bushes however, really stand out against the misty lighting. I think these bright yellow flowers with large leaves are some kind of sunflower, at least they remind us of the desert sunflowers from Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve. Or maybe a daisy? Or an aster? I really need to get the plant identification App.

The view from the road as we drive toward Wetherill Mesa isn’t much better. We can barely see the hills.

We pull over and stop at the Fire Recovery Viewpoint and learn how fires affect the landscape.

Frequently a dry lightning strike will ignite a solitary tree. The fire may smoulder and remain undetected for several days until hot, dry, and windy conditions cause it to spread rapidly. Under the right conditions, a wind-driven fire can char thousands of acres within a few hours.

Sometimes a fire burns into a previously burned area. When it does, the intensity of the fire will drop. These burned areas serve as fuel breaks. The patchwork of burned-up and recovering areas creates a natural mosaic of grasses, flowers, mountain shrubs, and a forest of mature pinyon and juniper trees. It takes centuries for a pinyon-juniper forest to fully recover from a fire. (plaque).

Unfortunately, it’s still too foggy to get a picture of this mosaic effect, but I have a few photos of fire-damaged areas taken near the end of the Petroglyph Trail and from the road to Chapin Mesa.

Over 95% of all recorded wildflowers in the park have been started by lightning. The remaining 5% have been caused by humans. Seventy percent of Mesa Verde National Park has been burned by wildfires since the Park was established in 1906. (

Finally we make our way out of the fog.

These bright red-orange flowers are Desert Indian Paintbrush and definitely brighten this sunless, cool day.

Rain greets us as Wetherill Mesa Road ends into a parking lot. We also discover that the self-guiding tour of Step House is closed until summer. (We misunderstood the Park volunteer at the Visitor Center. He told us Wetherill Mesa was open and we thought he meant the trail to Step House too. What he was referring to was Wetherill Mesa Road which is open, weather permitting, from May through September.) It’s too cold and rainy to get out and walk anyway, so we head back to the RV.

Rain turns into sleet.

Sleet becomes snowflakes.

But the weather works a special magic on the colors of the landscape, emphasizing each unique hue of green.

And these pale and fuzzy clusters of leaves hug the side of the road as they catch the raindrops and snowflakes.

Out of the Park and on Route 160 heading west, we get a great view of Sleeping Ute Mountain.

According to the Ute Mountain Tribe legend:

Sleeping Ute was a great warrior god who came to help fight against the evil ones who were causing much trouble. As the tremendous battle took place the great warrior and evil ones stepped hard upon the earth and braced themselves to fight. Their feet pushed the land into mountains. Unfortunately the great warrior god was hurt so he lay down to rest and fell into a deep sleep. The blood from his wound turned into living water for all creatures to drink. When fog or clouds settle over the sleeping warrior god, it is a sign that he is changing his blankets for the four seasons. The light green blanket is spring. The dark green blanket is summer. The yellow and red one is autumn, and the white one is winter.

Remember these photos from a few days ago taken from Mesa Verde National Park?

Can you find the sleeping Ute?

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