Arrived here about 2 PM. Will see Pueblo Indian ruins tomorrow.
Mesa Verde National Park, Near Cortez Colorado
Today is the day Diane and I chose to visit Mesa Verde National Park, sadly the last place we have on our list of things we want to see before heading home. We will be passing Arches and Canyon Land Parks on our way through Utah, but those will have to be another adventure at another time.
Our RV park was located within a half mile of the park entrance, so once we got ourselves up and the water hose thawed, (it was 22 degrees out when I got up) we were on our way. Seeing the Cliff Dwellings has been a long time dream for both of us. Not many ruins dating so far back exist in the U.S. and the ones at Mesa Verde are among some of the best that remain.
The park entrance is located about a half mile from highway 161 along a newly paved road. Arriving there I flashed my Geezer Card, (Golden Age Passport), and was handed a brochure about the park and a newsletter which told us which attractions and areas were open and which were not. Our first stop would be at the Far View visitor center about 15 miles into the park. The drive was a steady climb to a huge plateau with magnificent views in every direction, then we would go down several hundred feet only to climb back up. Every where along the drive were dead standing trees, victims of fires that have in the last 10 years burned over two thirds of the parks 52,000 acres. After about a 45 minute drive we arrived at the visitor center ready for our adventure.
At the visitors center we got our tickets for the Cliff Palace guided tour. The center also houses a mini museum and gift shop where we purchased a T shirt and Booklet about the park. After half an hour or so it was on down the road to the ruins at Far View, a mesa top farming community containing five villages and what was possibly a rock lined water reservoir. These ruins are on top of the mesa, and are not near any cliffs. Spending about a half hour there (see photos) it was on to the big one, the Cliff Dwellings known as Cliff Palace.
It is time for a little information on who these people were, what they did, and what happened to them.
A quote from the National Park Service Brochure says it best….
“ About 1,400 years ago , long before Europeans explored North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of canyon walls. Then, in the late 1200’s in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away.”
These people have been called The Anasazi by the Navaho, translated to mean “Ancient Foreigners”, now called the Ancestral Puebloans. The interesting thing as explained by our guide, Jim, was that they apparently just moved out and headed down into New Mexico and Arizona which means that many of the pueblo people currently living there are probably descendants of the Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellers. Unknown is the cause, whether it was drought or some other calamity, it remains a mystery to this day.
Mesa Verde National Park was created in 1906 in an attempt to preserve the Cliff Dwellings and Mesa Village sites of these people. Some 4,500 Archeological Sites, 600 of them being Cliff Dwellings are contained within the park. Research and reconstruction continue throughout the park as we noticed surveyors climbing in rocks with notebooks and electronic measuring devices.
The two main sites we would visit were the Cliff Palace, a ranger led 1 hour tour, and Spruce Tree House, a self guided tour near the Park museum.
The Cliff Palace tour began at a spectacular overview of the site, a couple of hundred feet below us. Our group of 50 or so people headed through a gate and down a series of stairs, stone steps, and on occasion, even a ladder or two, before arriving at a spot near the dwellings where our guide gave us a brief history and explanation of what we were going to see. From there it was off to see the ruins up close and personal. The photos show much of what we saw, so there is no reason to explain further. After about half an hour at the ruins, it was time to head back up to the parking lot. This route was much steeper and again was a combination of stairs, rocks, and ending in climbing a 30’ladder.
From there it was back to the main cluster of park buildings, including a post office, museum, restaurant and our final tour to Spruce Tree House. After having a Mesa Verde Burrito on Fry Bread at the restaurant and going through the excellent museum, it was off on a well paved path to the Spruce Tree House site, only a 15 minute walk. Again the pictures will tell the story much better than I. After spending about a half hour at the site, it was huff and puff back up the hill to Old Blue and the trip back to the RV Park.
A lot of the park was not open when we were there. Two or three other ranger led tours were not operating, as well as the campground and one of the major loop roads. There was much more to the park than we saw, but we left with a lot more knowledge of how these people lived and a sense of wonderment of how magnificent the cliff dwellings and the other buildings they left behind really are.......Larry