This beautiful and “easy-walking” ramp led Jerry and me to the visitor center at Mesa Verde National Park, home of 4,500 archeological sites; 600 of which are cliff dwellings. We examined the displays, read history notes, and perused the listings of the tours that are available. We decided to hike to the Spruce Tree House, and to engage in some of the road tours. (Many pictures in the linked article.)
It was about ten years ago that we first visited Mesa Verde, and even before we arrived at the visitor center today we saw there had been significant change and presumed the ravaged acres must have been the result of wildfires. Inside the visitor’s center, a large poster told of the devastating and extensive fires in recent years, and a few minutes ago when I checked for further information on these fires, I confirmed that during the last seven years, five raging wildfires have burned over fifty percent of the land at Mesa Verde. Fortunately, very few historic dwellings were damaged.
Taken in (See more photos here)
The weather, as has been usual since we’ve been here in Colorado, was perfect–the skies strikingly beautiful. This circular rail leads to the main entrance of the visitor’s center. According to anthropologists and historians, Mesa Verde is the home of the Ancestral Puebloans, and the cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages here were built between A.D 450 and 1300.
Mesa Verde is a World Cultural Heritage Park, a designation granted by UNESCO to preserve and protect the cultural and national heritage of certain international sites. Mesa Verde has also been selected the #1 historic monument in the world by readers of Conde Nast Traveler, and was chosen by National Geographic Traveler as one of the “50 places of a Lifetime–The World’s Greatest Destinations.”
The Ancestral Puebloans created a thriving populous civilization that eventually raised towers and built hundred-room cities into the cliffs of Mesa Verde. There are thousands of sites in the area, earning Mesa Verde Country® the honor of being North America’s richest archaeological area. Many sites are open to the public for visitation, and there are local museums and institutions dedicated to exploring and interpreting this culture and archaeology. The most famous of these is award-winning Mesa Verde National Park, but visiting others provides a deeper look into the fascinating culture of the Ancestral Pueblo People.
It is an astonishing place, and when I view those dwellings and think of the scores of families who lived here, and the extreme difficulties under which they labored, I am impressed with their fortitude, grit and intelligence. I do not understand how they lived in such places. They had to carry their water up to the cliff dwellings, and they farmed on the mesas above their homes. It’s just incredible.
Take a look at this view of one of the cliff dwellings and you can imagine how difficult their life must have been.
Suddenly, they were gone. By about 1300 Mesa Verde was deserted. Several theories are extended, but despite significant study and intense investigation no one actually knows what happened to these people. The history of Mesa Verde and its people is exhaustive–much too entailed for examination within this blog. I believe you will find it a fascinating study if you choose to delve into the history of these marvelous people.
The hike to the Spruce Tree House was a quarter of a mile, and was a fairly steep descent. We took it slowly, and almost immediately I saw very large birds in a tree across the canyon. Everyone was pointing and taking pictures, and someone said they were eagles. I was excited, snapped lots of pictures, then a ranger came by and told us the birds were not eagles, but were turkey vultures. Oh, well, they’re big and pretty. We did well hiking up, too, but we should have taken water with us. It was rather hot.
This is astonishing, I thought, as I stood here and photographed the living place of a mysterious, long-vanished people. What happened to them? Where did they go? Why did they leave?