A Travellerspoint blog

Desert Wanderings - Mesa Verde

sunny 40 °C

Mesa Verde National Park is nestled into the Southwestern corner of Colorado. Home to the Pueblo peoples since ~550AD until ~1300AD, it is evident that these people were creative, clever and led rich lives. Half of the park is closed right now for renewal of their roads and structures, the other half took us the day to visit.

The previous evening, we drove to the Park Point Overlook area to watch the sun go down. It boosts the highest elevation in the park which is 8572ft (2631m) and from there you can see the land geography around you. Mountain ranges to west, flat canyon lands as well, as mesas reaching out like fingers across the landscape.

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The sunset was stunning.

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And then back at our campsite, Morefield Campground, we were able to snap these pictures of the stars. This is a Dark Sky Preserve and we caught the timing right with a new moon.

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Mesa Verde is home to a number of dwellings preserved from the time of the Pueblo peoples. Many of the dwellings can be seen from overlooks and stops along the winding road. There are also several ranger-led tours that take people down into the dwellings and teach about the area. We had tickets on the first tour of the day, 9:00am, at Cliff Palace.

The road that takes you down to the sites is long, winding and mountain driving. I thought we had underestimated the time and we might be late for our tour. But it turned out that we had time to spare, despite a brief stop.

The hike to Cliff Palace is only .25 miles but you descend over 100ft aided by steps and ladders. Our ranger was a descendant of Peoples from the Southwest and told us stories his life growing up following practices very near to the Pueblo peoples. Cliff Palace has over 150 rooms, and was a place for trade, politics and celebrations. It likely housed 23 families and hosted people travelling from other places as far away as the Pacific Ocean and the Chaco Canyon in Mexico. Most of what is seen today, and in these pictures, is preserved and original from 1150 - 1300 AD. Some reconstruction has taken place to make sure the site is secure, but very little was needed since the structures were built soundly.

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They used the natural cliff structure to build onto and around to give their rooms strength and longevity.

Kivas are the spiritual centre of the community. And I use the present tense because there are several communities still practicing in this fashion. Singing, stories and worship all take place there. They are circular rooms that were often sunken into the ground. A fire would be made and people would sit around the outside of the room. Each family grouping would have its own Kiva. As our ranger was teaching us about the kivas, he mentioned a hole in the far side that was meant to remind them that they are people of the underworlds. He went on to tell us about the creation story of the people who live in the southwest. Many of the Peoples have variations on the story but in their essence they are the same. I will not retell it here. It is not my place to tell a creation story from another culture, but please look it up if you can and learn for yourself about the creation story from this part of the world. It is beautiful and I thanked our ranger for sharing it with us.

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After the tour, the exit takes you along the original exit that the Pueblo people would have used. It is skinny! And you need to climb 3 long ladders. If you are scared of heights, the advise we got was to not look back! I didn’t look back.

After our Cliff Place tour, we set out to explore the other parts of the park. The Pueblo people first lived on top of the mesa where they grew corn, and had domesticated turkeys. They lived very near their crops much like settlers on family farms have done in North America since they arrived. At some point during ~1150 or so, the people began to construct dwellings under the cliffs. They would come on top of the mesa to tend to their fields of corn and then return down below the cliff edge. The cliffs provided protection from the elements as well as a strategic place to gather and do business. In the park, there are structures called Pit Houses that are the remnants of the topside house/kiva and room foundations. Some were stand alone houses and some were in small villages.

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Many cliff structures can be seen from the overlooks in varying states of preservation. The park is laid out chronologically and you can track the advancement of the communities throughout the more than 600 year presence of the Pueblo people.

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The influence of trading partners is seen in the artifacts that have been recovered, like seashells and even in the design of this temple called the Sun Temple.

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Despite the weather which reached a crazy 40 degrees C (104F), we had a great time here.
Mesa Verde is a place that is not just a beautiful park. Go to learn. Go to respect. Go to be in awe of a place that has held spiritual importance for centuries.

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Posted by blgracey 02:54 Archived in USA

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