Mesa Verde – A Western Wonder

A view of Cliff Palace while waiting in line to descend to the dwelling.

 

President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill that created the National Parks Service “…to promote and regulate the use of the…national parks…which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as we will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations“.

The United States has 58 National Parks, 21 of which I have had the pleasure of seeing. All have been unique and magnificent. Many have taken my breath away with vast landscapes and captivating beauty. Others have exposed me to utter silence, allowing me to know absolute peace and tranquility. Still others have captured my imagination and curiosity.

Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is one of them.

It was May of 1996 and I was pregnant with my 4th child when my dear husband surprised me with a whirlwind trip to the west. We left the big kids at home to run the business and we took off on a second honeymoon that I will always cherish.

On the list was the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde. I was eager to see the Grand Canyon, but not so enthused about Mesa Verde. I had seen enough boring old ruins to last me a lifetime, I thought, but for David they were the next best thing to going to Machu Picchu.

On our way, we toured Aztec Ruins National Monument. It was okay. On vacation most things are, as long as you have the right attitude. In the back of my head, I envisioned Mesa Verde being more of the same stuff, but on a somewhat bigger scale.

I could not have been more wrong.

The cliff dwellings of the Anasazi were a big surprise. What a marvel they were!

As David and I toured the Balcony and Cliff Palace I became intrigued with my surroundings. I began to imagine what life must have been like living on a mountainside.

It was easy enough to get vertigo watching the ranger talk with her back to the canyon, heels hanging off the side, much less living there and having to worry about kids falling to their deaths.

How did the Anasazi prevent such tragedy? How many may have fallen?

When my kids got burned on a floor furnace, it only happened once. They were left with some temporary grill marks, but life went on. In the case of the Anasazi, there could be no second chance.

The questions kept coming.

  • How did these ancient people dig out the rock and build a village in the canyon wall? And why?
  • Did they have any privacy? All of the rooms in the villages seemed to be connected.
  • How cold were the winters at that elevation?
  • What was it like having to climb to the top to farm?
  • They say they vanished. Where did they go?

Needless to say, I was impressed. I still consider that vacation the Grand Canyon trip, but Mesa Verde opened my eyes in a way that no other archaeological site had ever done before.

Visit if you can and don’t pass up Cliff Palace. It’s the crown jewel of Mesa Verde National Park.

 

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Fun facts about Cliff Palace as gotten from Via:

  •  Sandstone blocks and wooden beams formed Cliff Palace’s 150 square and circular rooms, including living spaces and granaries, as well as 23 ceremonial areas known as kivas.
  • Parts of the structure stand 25 feet high, and the entire complex extends 324 feet – roughly 80 feet longer than the Great Sphinx at Giza.
  • The village faces southwest, giving it maximum exposure to the sun in winter.
  • After glimpsing what looked like “a magnificent city” in 1888, rancher Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason gave it the perfect name.
  • Before Mesa Verde became a national park in 1906, sightseers and cowboys camped in its empty rooms and scavenged for artifacts.
  • Elevation at Cliff Palace is 6,790 feet. Tours involve a 100-foot descent on a steep trail and climbs up five eight-foot ladders.
The Anasazi were ancestral Pueblo people who made southwest Colorado their home for over 700 years –  from 600 A.D. to 1300 A.D.  Known as cliff dwellers, they built their villages in a rocky alcove 50 feet up a canyon wall.

 

Till next time,

Marlene

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