A final trek (FINALLY - yes, life gets in the way of blogs sometimes) through THE largest cliff dwelling in North America, which sits in Mesa Verde National Park. The park is nearing their snowy season now, if not already into it. Living in the desert SW tends to skew my view of the weather in the rest of the country. The park is always open, but access to some of the areas is limited during the winter months.
December 18th will mark the 127th year since Richard Weatherill and Charlie Mason, ranchers in the SW corner of Colorado, stumbled upon these magnificent ruins. Riding atop this mesa, searching for stray cattle during a blizzard, they were met by an astonishing sight across the canyon pictured...
Three stories high, a magnificent stone city was hidden under a massive rock overhang. The cattle search was quickly abandoned while the men climbed down, and then up, to explore their discovery for several hours.
This is Cliff Palace - 150 rooms, 23 kivas and, speculated, home to over a hundred people, it is thought that Cliff Palace was probably a social and "administrative" site of pretty great ceremonial importance in its heyday. The centerpiece of Mesa Verde, it is one of the finest examples of late prehistoric cliff dwellings in the American Southwest. Much restoration has been done over the years to preserve it, this is one of the ticketed/guided tours within the park.
Much controversy surrounds the legacy of Wetherill and Mason, and little credit seems to be given (depending on the story teller) the men in the actual discovery of Cliff Palace. In the years following their discovery, Wetherill collected thousands of artifacts from this and other area ruins. However, most all of Wetherill's artifacts ended up in museums, where they could be studied by professional archaeologists and viewed by the public...and MORE sadly, squirreled away in huge, dark storerooms WITHIN these museums, not to be seen by anyone in the public, since acquisition.
The same cannot be said of countless other priceless artifacts stolen by visitors over the years, which ended up in private collections. To protect the site from further looting and degradation, Congress named Mesa Verde a National Park in 1906.
On the opposite side of the park, but all within a little less than 20 miles by car, sits Wetherill Mesa - home to beautiful tourist lodging, and even more ancient treasures. This side of the Park is only open from May to September, weather permitting. We ran into a hell of a thunderstorm that day, that stopped us from hiking the last ruin, due to waiting out the rain and hitting there at closing time. If you go, plan ahead and leave yourself plenty of time. It was actually a blessing in disguise for me to have missed it, as my cowboy boots had just about had it by this tree.
EVERYWHERE! One of the greatest gifts we have as Americans is the freedom to travel as we please. To get out and discover this great land of ours - the history and treasures it holds - and to LEARN - even the women! Thankful, as I look at these photos, for a lifetime of being allowed to soak up everything I can!
A parting shot of the ruins of Hemenway House - yep, eyes wide open (go back up a few photos and look, but they are in the center of the mesa, under the large shaded overhang). Want to explore for yourself...
Happy Thanksgiving from my house to yours...may it be SAFE, happy, and spent with someone you love!