Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mesa Verde National Park

Friday morning we drove into Mesa Verde National Park to spend the day. The drive into the Park was interesting. The entrance to the Park was just 10 miles from our B & B, but the drive up onto the mesa was another 25-30 miles of VERY windy roads as you climb from the valley floor up onto the Mesa. Here's some interesting facts about the Park: Mesa Verde consists of over 52,000 acres, protects nearly 5,000 archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, with over 3 million artifacts in their research collection. So it's a big area . . . with lots of interesting things to see, but we only had the day so we picked just 3 cliff dwellings we wanted to see. We started the first of our guided tours at Cliff Palace. In the early 1900's a couple of cowboys looking for stray cattle came upon these ruins. Can you imagine their first impression? A few years later, President Roosevelt established Mesa Verde National Park to "preserve the works of man," the first, and still only national park of its kind. There's some amazing things to see here. As you look down upon these dwellings you can see at least 8 kiva's and several 2-3 story structures.
Cliff Palace is Mesa Verde's largest cliff dwelling. The hour long tour involved descending uneven stone steps, and climbing five ladders for a 100 ft. vertical climb. The total walking distance was a 1/4 mile round trip so it was an easy hike to start with.

We took several pictures as we descended into Cliff Palace. It was an amazing place. It was so interesting to learn about the people and how they lived. It's estimated that Cliff Palace was built over a period of about 100 years. Can you imagine living here your whole life . . . as well as several generations after you? The people only lived about 30 years! It was almost unbelievable to see the sites we were seeing and to try to get a better understanding about the people who inhabited these dwellings. Life was not easy!
The stonework of these structures was amazing. The small openings that look like windows are really doorways. Remember the people were small, and a smaller opening meant less cold coming in in the winter, and less heat in the summer. Above the main structures, high in the small slits in the mountain, is where grains and seeds were stored. It's hard to imagine how you'd get to most of these areas . . . the people must have gotten really good at rock climbing!
Here's proof we really made the hike. We'd never done hiking like this before and it was so fun. Our tour group ranged from very young to old. . . so we figured if they could make it, so could we. It really was a nice hike and we were seeing some really neat stuff!
This is just one of many small slits we passed through on our hike into Cliff Palace. This is the rock slit we passed through as we climbed back on top.
And one last photo of where we'd been. We were having the time of our lives!
Our next guided tour was to Balcony House. As we met with the Ranger and he described the hike we were going on, I just about chicken out. This tour involved climbing a 32 ft. ladder (I don't like heights), crawling through a 12 ft. long tunnel on your hands and knees (I don't like tight places), climbing up a 60 ft. open cliff face (again, I DON'T like heights), and two 10 ft. ladders to exit the site.
Here's a view of part of the hike. You won't be surprised to know that I didn't take any of these photos, I was pretty much hugging the cliff walls and trying not to look down any more than absolutely necessary.
This is the 32 ft. ladder we had to climb to get out of Balcony House. The ladder itself doesn't look too bad until you have the whole perspective as to where it's located! It's a long ways up and a long ways down.
The ladder was made of sturdy poles and wide enough for two. The Ranger gave us all a little pep talk before starting up the ladder. He said, "Don't look up and don't look down", so that's how I was able to accomplish climbing at that height. I just looked at the rock in front of me and tried to climb as quickly as my shaky legs would carry me. Midway up the ladder I had to hesitate a moment waiting for others to go ahead, I was tempted to look around but I resisted because I knew I'd be sick if I did.
I know this probably doesn't look that scary to a lot of people, but for me, this was a big deal! You can't really appreciate how far down it was to the valley floor or how high it was to the top, but this really was a CLIFF DWELLING! I was so glad to be on solid ground when we got here. The Ranger was asking everyone to solve the mystery of how and why the people lived here and why they left. I said I knew why they left. The women got together and said, "We're not climbing up or down those ladders one more time! We've had it, we're moving down by a river!" I don't care what the archaeologists say, that's my theory and I'm sticking to it.
This ladder, and the hand and toe holes, starts the climb towards the tunnel . . . the next obstacle I was really looking forward to as we left the Balcony House.
This slit in the mountain is where we entered the tunnel. It wasn't nearly as bad as I'd anticipated. I was carrying my binoculars and a water bottle so I just pushed them ahead of me as I crawled through the tunnel. I didn't spend any time looking around, but just hurried through looking ahead towards the light at the end. Randy got caught up a time or two because his binoculars and camera were on his belt, but we made it just fine. I was pretty relieved when we made it back on top of the mountain. It had been quite an adventure . . . . and we were so glad we'd done it.
Our last tour of the day was to Spruce Tree House. This was a self-quided tour to Mesa's Verde best-preserved and third largest dwelling.
It's estimated that Spruce Tree House was constructed between AD 1211 and AD 1278. The dwelling contains 130 rooms and 8 kivas. It is thought to have been the home to 60 to 80 people.
It was an easy half-mile hike down the 100 ft. descent into the dwelling. Here we were able to descend a ladder into one of the kivas. All the other kivas we'd seen earlier no longer had the roof on, but this one we were able to go down into.
Randy is standing in the bottom of the kiva. Large or small every kiva is built with a fire pit in the center of the room, a deflector wall and a ventilator shaft. Kiva's were gathering places and were also used for ceremonial purposed. Being inside a kiva was a cool place to be on a hot summer day. Every place we stood, we tried to imagine what life would have like hundreds of years ago.
Here I am coming up out of the kiva. Exploring these sites had been quite an adventure for us. We'd seen and experienced so many great things at Mesa Verde. We'd had a wonderful time seeing all these historical dwellings and seeing and doing things we'd never done before. We were having so much fun together. We've made another great memory of places we've traveled and good times we've had.

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