Ages ago J-Mo and I went on a little adventure, we took a mostly spontaneous road trip to Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado. Mesa Verde has been on my list of places to visit for at least a decade, and I was surprised and a little shocked at myself for not making the 6-hour drive, you know, ten years ago. For anyone else who has always wanted to go to Mesa Verde but never actually gotten around to it. Go. Go now. And spend at least two days there, you won’t regret it.
Our first stop was Cliff Palace, the largest dwelling in the park. You need tickets to tour this ruin, they are only a few dollars and I highly recommend it. Our tour guide was, well, a little dry and hard to listen to her drone on and on, but she did have some really great information. Plus she let us hold a 700-year piece of dried maize. It’s like miniature Indian corn and along with beans and squash was the primary diet of the Ancestral Pueblans (“Anasazi” is no longer used as it is actually a Navajo word meaning “enemy of the (Navajo) tribe.”), they farmed on top of the cliffs and lived in carved out little neighborhoods on the sheer wall faces.
At one point anywhere from 140-200 people lived at Cliff Palace. In this ruin there are a few places where tourists can walk around this cliff dwelling, but only on a guided tour. The round circular holes in the foreground are kiva’s, kind of like basement rooms used for a variety of purposes.
There are some really steep ladders and steps cut into the cliff to get down to the ruins (the Ancestral Pueblans used ladders and foot and hand holes cut into the cliffs. We saw some, they put most rock climbers to shame), you should prepare your knees and probably not wear a skirt. Ahem.
I expected the ruins to be a lot more red sandstone instead of this white-ish buff-colored sandstone. That being said, the cliffs were incredible. There are hundreds of dwellings–most of them small for one or two families–in Mesa Verde, each cliff dwelling is built in a little overhang where there is a water source. Water seeps through the sandstone until it hits shale and can’t seep anymore, so it comes horizontally out of the rock making a little spring or fountain or, well, drip. It’s amazing that a weeping rock can support over a hundred people.
In addition to falling for the ancient ruins, I also fell a little bit in love with the southwestern Colorado sky. It was full of these little white, fluffy clouds and the most perfect shade of blue…I only took a dozen photos, or so.
The other guided tour we went on was Balcony House which is a considerably steeper climb than Cliff House and involves a few 20-40 foot ladders you need to climb before you make it to your destination (again, a skirt is an unwise choice).
You can get a lot closer to the ruins in Balcony House than you can in the Cliff Palace. It’s amazing the kind of construction skill the Ancestral Pueblans had for their time.
They put sticks in the red clay between stones to make it stronger, the same idea as putting rebar in concrete to reinforce it. Brilliant.
Logs were used to support the second story balcony which gives this ruin it’s name. No biggie, that log is only 700 years old. Whatevs.
A kiva at Balcony House, there is a fire pit in the bottom and there was a ceiling with a smoke-hole and a ladder to get into these subterranean rooms. Historians and researchers aren’t entirely sure what the kiva was used for, but they do know it was a sacred part of the Pueblans society.
A better view of some of the ruins of Balcony House.
For grinding maize into meal.
Spruce House is one of the few ruins in Mesa Verde that is open to exploring and wandering around. Unfortunately, after our guided tours of Cliff Palace and Balcony House, we arrived at Spruce House about 3 minutes after the rangers closed it for the night. I seriously thought of sneaking down there, but ultimately J-Mo and I peeking into the ruin from the cliffs above had to suffice. We stared for a while, me snapping pictures and us both keeping a wary eye on the enormous, black Turkey Vultures that were everywhere. You can see them in the evergreen tree on the left, or hanging out on the top of the cliff. Creepy, yo.
J-Mo and I took the long, scenic route out of the park (okay, that’s not entirely true. There’s only one road in or out, but we decided to stop in as many places as possible and take every turn off we could to see as much of the park as possible before we settled down at our campsite for the night.
Until next time, Mesa Verde. I pinky promise there will be a next time, I am not done with southwest Colorado. For more photos, check out my Flickr set.
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