We reluctantly left the beautiful Monument Valley and had a short drive through the southeast corner of Utah on our way to Colorado. Our first stop was five days at Mesa Verde National Park, one of America's premier collections of ancient Puebloan (also called by their Navajo name, Anasazi) cliff dwellings and ruins.
The Ancestral Puebloans (as they are called by their present-day descendants, the pueblo-dwelling people in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas) moved to the Mesa Verde area around 500 AD. Living mostly on the mesa tops, where the south-sloping landscape had a longer growing season, until about 1200 AD, when many of them moved down into the canyons and built dwellings in the natural caves, or "alcoves" high above the canyon floor. Using just stone tools, they shaped sandstone blocks and built dwellings, some of the four stories tall, that nestled in among the rocks like a natural part of the cliff. Around 1300 AD, they inexplicably left and moved south. Was it due to climate change, or invading enemies, or depletion of game animals, or some combination of these?
Today, these dwellings are haunting legacies of the past that evoke wonder and curiosity and, most of all, an appreciation of the hard-working people who scratched a living out of this hostile environment for over 600 years.
For more about the wonders of Mesa Verde, visit my Outdoor Project adventures:
|Cliff Palace is the largest and best known of the dwelling complexes|
|Long House has 150 rooms|
|Square Tower House is not open for tours except for a few weeks in spring and fall|
|Before the cliff dwellings, the people lived in pit houses made of stone and wood|
|Spruce Tree House, the most well-preserved of the cliff dwellings|
|Ladder in the reconstructed Kiva in Spruce Tree House|
|Balcony House was the most fun tour in the park. We had to climb 30-foot ladders and crawl through tiny tunnels.|
|Visible from the top of Mesa Verde, the high Rocky Mountain peaks beckon us.|
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