the wandering chick
...Mesa Verde National Park
the home of Ancestral Puebloans
There's a tremendous amount to see in the Four Corners area, but if you're there, Mesa Verde should not be missed.
For more than 700 years, generations of Ancestral Puebloans made Mesa Verde their home. Some lived atop the "green table" and others built elaborate communities under the ledge of a huge cliff.
Their skills at building are so very evident at Mesa Verde. Through the years, their dwellings improved from pithouses to elaborate sandstone and mortar communities.
What can be seen today are several villages that, at one time, had dozens and even hundreds of rooms. Long House, Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Spruce Tree House are probably the best examples of their astounding experience in construction Many of the walls, 1700 years later, stand tall and straight and have withstood the elements of time.
Mesa Verde is located just east of Cortez, Colorado in the state's southwest corner. The national park has a visior's center, a lodge, a campground, restaurants, hiking trails and guided tours among other activities. Some of the cliff dwellings must be toured with a guide and cost a small additional fee; others can be self-guided and without a fee.
As impressive as the massive rock called Mesa Verde is as seen from Highway 160 east of Cortez, it doesn't reflect the true layout of the park. Many canyons and mesas form Mesa Verde, but the two major mesas are Chapin and Wetherill. It is on these that most of the park activities and cliff dwellings lie.
In the photo above and to the right, you see closeups of Point Lookout. In the photo below, Point Lookout is to the left, and the park's entrance is there; the pointed mountain in the middle is called Lone Cone. To the right is the Knife Edge. The photo is of the north side of the park called the North Rim. Chapin and Wetherill mesas are in the interior and cannot be seen from the highway. If you could see them, they'd be west (to the right) of the Knife Edge.
Chapin Mesa contains the most activities; Wetherill is less developed, making it quieter and less visited. However, the Wetherill sights are of equal interest to those on Chapin and should not be ignored. Wetherill is only open in the summer months.
A close up of Point Lookout
Cliff Palace is the largest of the cliff dwellings. It's located on Chapin Mesa and can only be toured with a park guide.
Cliff Palace contained 150 rooms and is believed to have been a particulary important structure of community activity. It's also believed that up to 100 people lived at Cliff Palace at any one time.
Ladders must be used by tourists in the main cliff dwellings to climb into or out of the dwellings. This one may look a little intimidating to some, but it's really not. Most of the ladders have from 6 to 10 rungs and are tightly secured.
The cliff dwellers built their structures out of the sandstone, mortar and beams. They used harder rocks found in the river beds to form the blocks. A process called 'chinking' was used to fill in gaps with smaller stones.
This is Balcony House. It's viewed here from across Soda Canyon. My travel partner and I decided not to tour this one because it seemed to involve more challenging ladders and it was one of the smaller dwellings anyway.
Along the Cliff Palace Loop, a six-mile driving loop from where you get nice views of Soda Canyon and Balcony House. And, from the driving loop, there's a short little walking trail that leads to the Soda Canyon Overlook from where the tree below was photographed. The easy trail is thick with Pinyon and Juniper trees.
Spruce Tree House is also on the Chapin Mesa and is self-guided in the summer months. There are no ladders to climb unless you want to go down into one of the kivas. Spruce Tree is said to be the most well-preserved dwelling.
I just liked the color of the tree against the rock.
All of the cliff houses had kivas, typically several. These are circular holes in the ground that were entered from a ladder that extended from a hole in the roof of the kiva. They were actually quite elaborate, needing a circulation system that provided air and a fire pit for heat.
Kivas were used for ceremonial purposes, it's believed; such things as healing rituals and prayers.
Oh, boy!! Now come pictures of the Petroglyph Trail. Yikes! What a hike!. The most daunting must have been the fact that in many places you couldn't see the trail 10 feet ahead of you. It seemed to disappear, if not into thin air, at least around a boulder that you'd swear you'd never be able to pass. But you WOULD pass it, then look back and say, "Where did we just come from???"
Cool trail? Yes. There were a few narrow slots you had to get through.
Hard? Yeah, in a couple of spots. One where you had to use a toe and hand hold to climb a boulder.
Scenic? You betcha!
Steep? No, I don't remember it being particularly steep, maybe in a couple places. There were areas where steps helped you up an incline.
Dangerous? Only if you're a fool - or act foolishly.
The trail is a 2.4-mile loop and starts at Spruce Tree House. It's so called for the wall of petroglyphs that are a little more than half way along the trail. A trail guide for a tiny fee will help you decipher the clans that etched the petroglyphs. It's recommended that if you want to see Spruce Tree House, do that before starting the hike. And you're also asked to register at a log that is placed at the beginning of the trail. Enjoy the pictures, but better...get out there and see it for real!
The Petroglph Trail, near the beginning
The last quarter mile or so of the Petroglyph Trail is over a flat burned-out mesa and seems to be directly above the Spruce Tree House.
This photo was taken on Wetherill Mesa. Wetherill is less developed and less visited than Chapin Mesa. But it has a lot to offer and should not be passed up. Visitors are transported by tram on this part of the park. So, park your car and grab the free tram. It takes you to all there is to see on Wetherill. Wetherill is closed in the winter months.
On the tour to Long House, you pass this view of one of the many canyons that make up the park.
A couple of wild horses which we were told belong to the Ute Indians roam free on Wetherill Mesa.
I'll say it again: Trees are my very favorite subject. I just can't pass up a nicely shaped one....even if it is burned out. Oh, yes, and there are the Ute horses trying to find shade.
One of the tour groups headed down to Long House
Long House is the second largest cliff dwelling after Cliff Palace. Though it's visible from the tram road, it can only be toured with a park guide.
Looking east toward Mancos Valley. Fires in New Mexico could be contributing to the smoky air.
This view of the House of Many Windows can only be seen from the Cliff Palace Loop on Chapin Mesa. The windows look out over a canyon, and the view is from the opposite side of the canyon.
Looking west over Montezuma Valley from Wetherill Mesa
Leaving Mesa Verde from Wetherill Mesa
Looking toward Montezuma Valley at sunset
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