We spent several days exploring the area around Mesa Verde in the middle of the trip. Naturally, we started at Mesa Verde itself to get oriented and to allow Nim to see all the interpretive stuff in the visitors center.
View of the cliff (with a structure) cut into the cuesta. A cuesta, we learned, is a tilted mesa, and the tilt to the south in this area allows for a nice long growing season up top. Beans, corn, and squash were farmed up top with the help of water catchment and irrigation structures; houses were built into the protected shady alcoves in the cliffs. Look carefully to spot the cliff dwelling
View of a cleaned-up and restored section of the Spruce Tree House. You can see that the structure was several stories high (floors would have been where you can see remnants of beams sticking out of the walls). Apparently all of the holes designed into the walls are doors, and not windows; it is thought that T-shaped gaps were doors to common spaces and rectangular ones led to more private spaces.
Kiva, or ceremonial space, also in the Spruce Tree House.
Some of the cliff dwellings in the park can only be seen on a guided tour, so to see the Balcony House we had to follow the crowd,
There were ladders to climb
fun views into neighboring rooms,
and many places to pose.
You should really appreciate how hard it was to get those shots without having gajillions of other tourists in them; the big-name National Parks in the summer are busy, busy places.
By contrast, the next day, we headed into the Ute Tribal Park to see more cliff dwellings in an adjacent canyon. This was a whole-day exploration; one is only allowed into this area in a small group with a Ute guide. The structures are every bit as impressive as the neighboring ones in Mesa Verde, but without the crowds, and you get the added bonus of a native guide full of stories and different perspectives on what it is like to live in an area like this.
Up top, it was about 105 out. Even though the flowers weren't wilting,
One will note, however, that there are large trees down in the canyon, and the structures are cool and shaded. There are seeps near most of the bigger houses, providing drinking water and evaporative cooling.
Once in the shade, Nimue perked up.
Despite the heat up top, it was quite pleasant exploring the structures built into the shady alcoves on the cliffs. One can see why it was an appealing place to build: cool and shady in the summer and protected from the winds in the winter.
Note the delightful lack of crowds! We got to poke around structures at four different sites along the cliff. Here I am, having foraged on ahead,
looking back at Chad. Parts of the ancient trail were not for the acrophobic.
Not being excessively bothered by heights, we enjoyed the ladders.
especially since they led to places like this.
There were artifacts lying around everywhere,
as well as interesting grooves and depressions for grinding and sharpening tools.
These grinding depressions have graffiti inscribed by the re-discoverers of the site in the 1890's.
Some parts of the structures were less consolidated than others; it is thought that the upper wall in this picture delineated a storage area, with the lower part being a dwelling.
One thing I was unaware of is that the interior walls were originally stuccoed, sometimes with decorative patterns.
Some of the kivas here had residual roof timbers. In general, there is less restoration here than in the National Park, which somehow made the site seem much more real and less like Disneyland.
Our Ute guide. He was full of myth, philosophy, and stories. Despite the fact that the Ancestral Puebloans who built the structures were not his tribe's direct ancestors, he clearly had a lot of reverence for the people and the site. At the end of the tour, he treated the group of us to a sung chant across the canyon. Very cool.
As a side note, though many of us originally knew the people who built the cliff dwellings as the Anazazi, the word "anasazi" is actually a Navajo term meaning "ancient enemies". Not the nicest way to refer to a people, and the term has generally been replaced by Ancestral Puebloan.
As we drove out of the area the following day, we stopped at the Anasazi Heritage Center (no name change there yet!) to get some maps of Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, a largely unexcavated region to the northwest of Mesa Verde. Here we poked around and saw ancient structures built up on top of the plateau rather than down in the cliffs.
Art Nimue liked at the museum.
I liked how little rocks were used to fill in spaces between the bigger rocks in some of the walls.
Square towers at neighboring Hovenweep National Monument. This area is chock-full of archaeological sites well beyond the ones that everyone has heard of; we barely scratched the surface!