I've loved Mesa Verde National Park from the first time I saw it. To think that the Ancestral Pueblo people lived here from about 550 to 1300 A.D. For most of that time, they lived in pueblos on top of the Mesa, but, for some unknown reason, in the 1190s, they built and moved into cliff dwellings. It is these amazing structures that are the highlight of the park.
There are many canyons running north and south separating the 81 square miles of the park into many different flattop mesas. The two that have roads are Chapin Mesa and Wetherill Mesa. Unfortunately, the road to Wetherill Mesa is only open late May to early September and we were a little early. (We were there mid-May.)
It seems that from any viewpoint, you can look across the canyon and see some kind of cliff dwelling.
But to tour the two main ones, you have to get tickets which we did the day before. (Wow! We actually committed to something.)
So promptly at 10 o'clock, we were at the meeting point for our tour of Cliff Palace, the park's largest cliff dwelling. It is truly magnificent. (Note the food storage rooms just under the roof.)
It looked similar to this in 1888 when two cowboys, Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason came upon it while chasing cattle up the canyon.
Although it seems totally different at first glance, a lot of the structure was under all that rubble and had to be excavated.
I'm always interested in what is original and what has been recreated. Here's a wall that is in both pictures.
Imagine chipping away at the sandstone to make it fit so uniformly.
But if there happened to be a large boulder in the way, it was incorporated into the structure.
We had the best ranger leading our tour. He was a gifted story teller and made me feel like I was there in the 13th century. It gave me chills to look up inside the square tower and see decorative painting still there.
Our next tour was Balcony House, famous for the 32-foot ladder that visitors must climb. Before I went on the road, I was afraid to climb above a couple of rungs. Now, nothing fazes me.
Our ranger for this tour wasn't quite as captivating, but we had a lot of children with us, and I must say he was very good with them. Here's a peek from one part of the dwelling to the other.
One theory for the move from mesa top to cliff dwellings was for protection. Although the ranger said this is probably not the reason, he did say this particular dwelling could be defended by an old woman with a stick. The original residents didn't have the sturdy 32-foot ladder from the nice trail built by the park service. Instead this was the way in or out.
Next we explored the Archeological Museum which displayed pottery and baskets found in the area. Our first ranger guide had mentioned that if a mug from that period with a handle is found anywhere in the United States, chances are it was made in Mesa Verde. It seems handles were their thing.
Our last stop of the day was Spruce Tree House and a self-guided tour. You can bet they still had rangers watching, but they were also very happy to answer questions. Spruce Tree House is tucked further under the cliff overhang and is the best preserved of the dwellings.
We noticed that it seemed to be deeper than the other two, with rooms tucked way back in the dark. The ranger verified this.
It's safe to say we were pretty tired after all this touring.