What better way to experience the summer solstice than in a 700 year old cliff dwelling? We couldn’t think of anything cooler! This week’s discovery from Mr.D ….
4am arrived much sooner than wanted, but I shook the sleep off, quickly dressed and drove from Far View Lodge to where our tour group was to meet. Arriving at Mesa Verde’s Balcony House, the sky was still dark with just a faint glow to the east.
The gathering group could only be seen as silhouettes, talking in whispers so as not spoil the quiet of the morning. The park ranger and assistant arrived and went over the details of the hike. Now 5:15, our small group of 20 are off to greet the summer solstice sunrise.
The morning light is filling in the darkness quickly as our eyes began to adjust. We first descend a number of stairs to reach a pathway leading to the 32 foot ladder, climbing side-by-side to reach the dwelling.
The pre-dawn glow is now bright enough to light everything, and begin to feel warmth on our skin. The air, fresh. No wind, no sound. Just a few murmured voices and the deep canyon behind now filling with light.
After ascending the ladder to reach a rock landing, we single file shuffle through a narrow cleft between the rock alcove and a dwelling wall to enter into Balcony House. The name comes from a second story dwelling that had a small balcony still in place from the 13th Century (the balcony, as seen below).
We then climb a short ladder and through another narrow passageway to reach the second courtyard where soon the sun will begin to rise on the horizon.
My mind begins to drift as I imagine myself waking up here 700 years ago to begin my day.
First glimmers of the day cast shadows from the walls and pole beams across the dwellings, as light begins to inch its way into doorways. Kivas, half in shadow, where stories, songs and ceremonies once took place, lay quiet at our feet.
The time is near, as a hush falls upon us in this intimate setting. We all face east, the tips of the La Plata Mountains in the distance as the first sliver of bright white tinged with gold appears. Happy Summer Solstice!
There is not a sound, just a reverent hush. Suddenly the dwelling is illuminated in bright gold with sharp shadows all around. This is one of the most beautiful mornings I can recall, with a feeling of serenity as we stand where the Ancient Puebloan People once stood.
By tour’s end, Balcony House still offers a bit of adventure. To exit this dwelling we all line up single file, crawl on our hands and knees to inch through an 18-inch wide by 12-foot long tunnel. And last, we maneuver stone steps up a 60-foot open cliff face with chain handrail, then two 10-foot ladders to exit.
It’s now 7:15am. We have spent 2 extraordinary hours enjoying the beauty and quiet of this amazing alcove village illuminated in gold.
Above is the view from Soda Canyon. There is a pull out on the road not far from Balcony House, and it’s a 3/4 mile walk out to the overlook.
Check the links below to book your special tour.
Wishing you Happy Discoveries,
For more information on Mesa Verde and Special Tours:
Specialty Tours like the Solstice Hike
Note: These special tours are not available through the Mesa Verde National Park tours. Click on link above.
Hey SWD, what an amazing article. Only wish I could have been there to see it myself, but at least I feel like I was there through this post. Great job!
Starlifter, This is an amazing sunrise tour. If you have the chance, take it!
We love Mesa Verde. Balcony house has never looked so golden! Signing up for next year!
Janice, we suggest staying at Far View Lodge the night before the tour. You’ll wake up around 4 am and be a short 30 minute drive to the site. Driving in from the park entrance off hwy 160, you’ll be an hour and half away as you drive up the mesa and into the eastern loop. When you go pls send pics so we can share!
It doesn’t get more golden than this and I would not have imagined had I not seen the photos! Wow!
ChileSage, the solstice sunrise is a remarkable moment, and the surprise of Balcony House turning gold is something everyone should experience. Beautiful.
Wonderful beautiful capture of a special moment. The video sunrise makes me feel like I was right there with you. Favorite post.
Pam, thank you for coming along with us!
Thank you for sharing this fantastic tour. Great photos and accounts of the golden solstice.
Doc, when Balcony House turns into golden ruins, this is a remarkable moment.