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One of the most intriguing aspects of our national parks is how we each experience them very differently. We make unique and personal connections based on our own interests and backgrounds. An example; some birder friends recently visited Pinnacles National Park in California and gushed to us about the birds, saying it was a trip of a lifetime. During our visit there, I hardly gave the birds a passing thought. I was too busy hyperventilating my way along the High Peaks trail.
Yucca House National Monument, located in southwestern Colorado, is another great example of how our park experiences can vary wildly.
A quick glance through the reviews over on Google, you’ll see Yucca House ratings all the way from one to five stars, all depending on individual perspective.
James and I poured over these mixed reviews as we roadtripped east to Mesa Verde National Park.
It certainly added to our curiosity, and at the very least, set our expectations low enough it would be hard to be disappointed. With it only being a few miles off our route, we decided a stop was in order.
While Yucca House preserves one of the largest archaeological sites in southern Colorado, the monument itself is hardly visited. During our stop, we had the place all to ourselves.
As far as national park sites go, Yucca House’s location is certainly unique. It is surrounded by private farmland, and you pretty much park along the gravel road right outside someone’s home.
Yucca House National Monument is not excavated, and has limited visible surface features. It also has no facilities or signage, so if you go without doing your homework, you would easily be unimpressed. Lucky for us, we did our research and knew the significance of where we were standing.
Despite it being so little known, Yucca House has big significance. The largest pueblo on the site had 600 rooms and 100 kivas; that’s huge! For comparison, the largest pueblo in Aztec Ruins National Monument, which is the size of a football field (and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), had only 500 rooms. And the famous Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park which is the largest cliff dwelling in North America only contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas. So while Yucca House National Monument may not look as impressive as Cliff Palace at first glance, look again. And this time use your imagination.
It is believed that Yucca House served as a village center from 1150 to 1300 AD, but not much else is known. Its integrity also preserves its mystery, so it requires some creative thought to fully appreciate the site.
I’m really glad we stopped. James and I both found incredible value in seeing a raw site and imagining what life was like there. Should it ever be excavated and the entire complex brought to life, it will be amazing, and we’ll be back to see it.
And some good news for Yucca House! This spring some legislation was introduced to expand Yucca House National Monument from 33 acres to 193 acres thanks to an incredibly generous land donation of 160 acres by a private party. That would change the public access to the monument, and would likely lead to the addition of facilities and signage in the future.
So, fellow national park geeks, before you go, do your homework! With no facilities and no signage, I’m not sure this park is for everyone, but we certainly didn’t regret visiting. At a minimum, a stop at Yucca House will allow you to witness first hand the beautiful site the ancestral Pueblo culture chose to build their community.