Tuesday, October 20, 2015


The pueblo in the last post (Canyons of the Ancients), is considered "small potatoes" in the area of Cortez, Colorado.  Mesa Verde National Park is the "big gun", if you will - home to over 4,000 known archaeological sites, ranging from pit houses and mesa top dwellings, to the spectacular cliff dwellings.  I've lots to show (I will break it down so it's not overload), and hopefully can impart a little history in the next days, along with my photos.  I'd been to the park many times as a child, and had the fun of taking my own little ones through with my parents, but hadn't been back for 20+ years. This past June I was lucky enough to visit, once more, with my folks.
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.
Spruce Tree House was excavated, and walls stabilized, and opened to visitors in 1908.  Due to the protective overhang of the cliff above, the ruin has deteriorated very little over time, and has required pretty minimal supportive maintenance.
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!


Mary Ann Potter said...

These are absolutely wonderful photos! There are so many treasures out there where you live! Beautiful post, Tanya. (Thanks so much for your lovely comments on my blog. They are much appreciated!)

Quinn said...

I visited Mesa Verde for the first time when I was rambling around the southwest, guitar in hand, a hundred years ago. Mesa Verde and Carlsbad Caverns were two places I revisited many times. Thanks for bringing back some memories :)

oldgreymareprimitives said...

Very cool! Loved the info on the keyhole doors.

Laurie said...

What a beautiful place! I hope I get to visit it someday. Can't wait for your hike tomorrow.

Maywyn Studio said...

Thank you Tanya for the amazing photos and information!

Tammy@T's Daily Treasures said...

Spectacular! I need to go there. We only made it to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings last summer and I was not impressed. It looked too staged and was rather small for the price of entrance. But still, very interesting to see these old dwellings and how they've stood the test of time. You know I love a good hike! :)

Jackie said...

Wow fabulous place, hope I can go one day!!

Dorthe said...

Dear Tanya, it is unbeliavable, these homes are still here, after so very many years. What stories they hide and so beautiful in the white stones, they are, . Wonderfully protected under the hanging cliff they are, and must be a treasure for you to revisit now again, my dear friend.
Everything so magnificent, and yet also so tiny .
Thank you dearest for showing such amazing places, I`m lucky to be able seing them here on your blog.
I hope you are doing great Tanya, and send you warm hugs, and love.