The area surrounding the park belies what jaw-dropping secrets lie within. The scenery is barren but beautiful, in its own right. We stayed at Ute Mountain Casino Hotel on the SW side of Cortez...a hotel I would highly recommend. Quiet, clean, spectacular views of the mesas (the middle photo right also shows Shiprock in the far distance), and tribal owned and operated...yes, that's a TripAdvisor endorsement, right there! We were treated to sounds of a drum circle from the pavilion in the park, on the weekend night we stayed. Photos on the left are vistas from the drive up and into the Park.
The Anasazi Indians of Mesa Verde made this their home from about 550 to 1300 AD, flourishing there for approximately 700 years before disappearing. These cliff dwellings are some of the most notable and best preserved in North America. Sometime in the late 1100s, after mainly living on the mesa top for 600 years, these Ancestral Puebloans moved over the edge and built pueblos into the overhanging cliffs (most probably for protection from the elements - heat, rain, and snow - and enemies), while still farming the mesa tops. These cliff dwellings ranged in size from simple one-room storage units, to villages of more than 150 rooms.
This is the view as you first approach the Spruce Tree House ruin site - the sheer enormity of this ancient ruin is lost in photo depth. Sadly, most times photos don't translate the same as what you actually take in with the naked eye. As with all my photos, click (and click again) to enlarge. The Spruce Tree House site has a museum, restaurant, and several bookstore/souvenir shops located atop the mesa - in addition to covered vantage points where those not wishing to make the trek down can sit in a little shade. My parents chose to stay on top that day while I walked down the path, into the ruin.
Again, the sheer enormity may not translate as well here - these overhanging cliffs are massive. When first discovered by ranchers in 1888, a large tree was found growing from the front of the dwelling to the mesa top, allowing access down into the ruin by the ranchers.
Spruce Tree House is the third largest cliff dwelling inside Mesa Verde, and is thought to have been constructed between 1211 and 1278 AD. The dwelling contains about 130 rooms, and 8 kivas - the large, circular, underground ceremonial chambers. This is one of the free and unguided tours in the park - you are welcome to wander through it on your own, but DO need to observe the rules and regulations regarding staying off the ruins themselves. There are Park Rangers available for questions, within the cliff dwelling itself.
Spruce Tree House was built into a natural alcove measuring 216 feet at its widest, and 89 feet, front to back. It was thought to have housed approximately 60 to 80 people. These were smaller people, by today's standards...the keyhole looking openings in these photos are actually doorways. It is thought that the extra sides on these were actually built to provide a "boost" in getting through - hands or elbows placed on the sides, as feet were swung through "on the run", even. I have been through some of these doors in another of these ruins, and they are tiny.
I usually avoid, for some silly reason, people in my shots, but this was needed for perspective. Upper right (below the vertical log and to the left of the round end of the support beam end, you can see the remnants of an old painting). Lower right shows some of the small keyhole doorways, above the kiva, (this one would have probably had some sort of thatched roof).
By the end of the 1200s, the population began migrating south into what are now New Mexico and Arizona. By 1300 AD, Mesa Verde lay completely silent. Where exactly did they go? Lots of theories, but it is believed that they became today's "modern" pueblo inhabitants. Hang tight - tomorrow we're going on a hike, and then there are more photos and some of the history of the actual discovery of these ancient marvels...lots of ground to cover for an old pair of cowboy boots this week!