Colorado 2011 – Day 4: The Ancients

As a child (more like “tween”, I guess you’d say), I was intrigued with the Anasazi culture.  The word itself sounded very mysterious.   After seeing pictures of the elaborate, labor-intensive cliff dwellings that  took about 100 years to build and then finding out the Anasazi abandoned them after living in them for only 100 years or so only peaked my curiosity.  I have wanted to see the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde in person for many years, and last week, I finally got my chance.

{Side note: I also got schooled that the term Anasazi is no longer used to describe these ancient peoples anymore.  Their heritage has been discovered to be that of the Pueblos, so the correct term in referring to this civilization now is “Ancestral Puebloans”}

I don’t know what I expected.  I think I thought it would look like Petra, where the dwellings on the face of the mountain are open to an unobstructed desert.  I mean, mesas rise up out of plateau, don’t they?  So I was pleasantly surprised that we didn’t just drive straight up to the side of a mesa and park and look and drive away.  It was more of a process, adding to the mystery, the 45-minute drive that led us from the entrance of the park, weaving across the tops of various mesas to our destination.

As you can see, there isn’t just one lone mesa that was our destination.   They spread out for miles and miles and miles…

The cliff-dwellings we saw were all in a single canyon (Cliff Canyon), a modern-day neighborhood of sorts.

All around the perimeter, cave dwellings are carved out, with names like Oak Tree House,
House of Many Windows, Square Tower House, Sun Point Dwelling, Mummy House, Sunset House, Hemenway House (after the woman who financially supported the first archeological dig in the Southwest), Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Site 634 (really? that’s the best name they could come up with in that land of wonder and majesty??)

Here are just a few of the cave dwellings we saw:

Sunset House

Oak Tree House

(I hate that my captions got cut off but I think you can still read them and it’s a PITA to redo it)

Fire Temple and New Fire House

The only thing we actually got to go into and tour was Cliff Palace, the one you think of when you think of Mesa Verde.  (Or at lease I do)  It is the largest cliff dwelling in North America, and when you think about the fact that these people carved the rocks by hand and mortared them together with a mud made of dirt, ashes, and urine, it’s mind-boggling that they are still standing 800 years later.

We had to do what these people did:

You start at the top and walk down narrow stone staircases to get down into the canyon.
Please excuse the blur – it was very steep!
But it was magnificent.
I love how this shows they worked into and around the existing rocks

They used the little areas up top for storage – like an attic!

Truly awe-inspiring

Then, to get back up out of the canyon, we had to climb up carved stairs and ladders.
The Anasazi used toe and finger holds to shimmy between the rocks!
Anyway, it was awesome.  And that about covers it.


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