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Saturday September 17- Mesa Verde National Park

We set the alarm for 6:30 and were out the door by 8. This picture is of the Mesa from the RV park.

Masa Verde from A&A RV Park. It It is only about 1/2 mile to the park entrance, but 15 miles to the Visitor Center. We stopped at the Visitor Center, stamped the National Parks Passport and bought our tickets($3 each) for the Cliff Palace tour. There are three Ranger led tours.  Long House was closed for the season and Balcony House has a  32 ft. ladder to climb and a 12 ft.  x 18 “ tunnel that you have to crawl through. My knees would not have cooperated with that, not to mention claustrophobia, so we chose just to do the Cliff Palace tour, which has 5 8 – 10 ft. ladders and a 100 ft. vertical climb to exit.

We wandered through the exhibits, used the facilities, then drove the 1/2 hour across Chapin Mesa  to the Cliff Palace entrance. Along the way we saw all these burned trees. 70% of the park has been burned by wildfires since the park was taken over by the National Park service in 1906. 70% of Mesa Verde had wildfires since 1906

We pulled into the parking lot at Cliff Palace and sat in the car drinking our coffee. Our tour was scheduled for 9:30, so at 9:15 we walked down to the overlook where the Ranger was to meet us. There was a bus group of Dutch tourists with their American guide and Danish translator.

At a little before 9:30 , Ranger Kevin Lyles showed up. He did  the altitude warning speech. Several people decided not to take the tour. We are at 7000 ft. Fortunately, we have been working out way up. At Salt Lake City we were at 4000 ft., in Moab we were at 6000 ft. and now we have moved to 7000 ft. Still feeling the effects, but not like some people are.

Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling. It held up to 200 people. There are over 300 cliff dwellings within Mesa Verde and over 4000 archeological sites within the park.

Cliff Palace from above

Ranger Kevin unlocked the gate and we walked down metal stairs which had been put in during the Depression era. At the bottom of the metal steps, Stairs down to Cliff Palace

you turn right and pass through a narrow rock pass, walking down uneven rock steps; we slowly made our way down to an asphalt path which went along the cliff. Then it was up the first wooden ladder(10 ft.). They have long poles at the top to hold on to, so it was not too bad. Glad I don’t have to climb down any of the ladders, just have to climb up!

We then sat on some rocks for Ranger Kevin to talk about the Cliff Dwellers. Our Guide, Ranger Kevin Lyles, at Cliff Palace.

These people were farmers, growing corn, squash and beans. The farms were above the dwellings, on the Mesa. There were no steps up, they just dug foot/hand holds in the rock and scrambled their way up and down. They supplemented their diet of corn, squash, and beans with gathering wild plants and hunting deer, rabbits, squirrels, and other game. They had domestic animals—dogs and turkeys.  Finding water was always an issue. The dwellings are made of sandstone where water drains through the rock. forming springs in the rear of the dwellings. They had reservoirs in the canyons. They also started to do pottery, which meant that they could keep their water. in pots. They moved from the dwellings in the 1300’s due to a major drought that drove them south, to New Mexico and Arizona,  from the area. The dwellings face south, so they get less wind. The rock overhead protects the dwellings, and they did not get wet, plus they could collect the water from what dropped from the stone shelf overhead. Note in the pictures the 90 degree angles of the walls! These people were talented stone masons.

Cliff Palace

Cliff Palace


Cliff PalaceCliff Palace

The people lived to age 40-50, women were lucky to make 40 years old due to child birth. Anthropologists found numerous baby/child bodies, so living to age 7  was a real milestone. Needless to say, with the poor diet and the lack of water; the hot and cold weather, they had really hard lives. The women’s height was about 5’1” and the men 5’4”.

When they started to build these cliff dwellings, they built them as apartment buildings. There are different levels. Also, they traded with others, trading food, pottery, leathers, arrow points, jewelry, tools and baskets.

The circles are called Kiva’s.Keva C @ Cliff Palace

Kiva is a Hopi word for ceremonial room. These underground rooms were ventilated much better than the living rooms. These people probably had  lung issues from their fires to keep warm and to ‘fire’ the pottery. Because they ground the corn on rocks, the rock dust became part of their food, wearing down their teeth.

Denise @ Cliff Palace

Bob @ Cliff Palace

Trash was thrown down into the canyon in front of the dwelling . This was also where they buried their dead. They also buried them under the rooms that they lived in…

Now, it was time to climb back out of here. We walked up stone steps then had to climb through the rocks. Rock stairs out of Cliff Palace

Then up the ladders, there were three of them. 


This is the view looking back down.

Climbing the rock steps out of Cliff Palace

When we reached the top of the stairs, we then had to walk up an asphalted walkway.

Before they were cliff dwellers, the Ancient Puebloans settled in the Mesa Verde ( Spanish for green table) 1400 years ago. They first lived in Pit Houses. They were basket makers, pottery did not come until they became cliff dwellers. About year 750 AD, they started to build houses above ground. As the population grew, they built the homes up against one another, forming a village. They became known as Pueblos, a Spanish word meaning ‘village dwellers”.

At about the year 1000 they became skilled stone masons, which is when they started to build mason walls. in about 1100, they started moving back into the cliffs, from where their ancestors came. No one knows why. It does not seem to be due to any type of war between the people of the time. These people lived without metal or beasts of burden( horses, mules etc.). The builders built the structures around the obstacles, like the big rocks in the pictures.

We moved now to the Pit House area. This Pit House is dated at 575 AD.Pit House 575 AD

This is another cliff dwelling, Square Tower House.

Square Tower House

Before they left the area, they started building this Sun Temple. The walls are thick, It seems that they did not finish the building before they moved from the area. On the top it looks like cement because it is. The NPS put cement on top to protect the building.

Sun Temple

Interestingly, the Temple was build in the shape of a “D”. Inside:

Inside Sun Temple

This is a picture of the mortar. Mortor at Sun Temple

These were very practical people. Because they had to conserve water, they used their urine to moisten the powder to make the mortar.

This is the museum. Museum

We went into the museum and watched the movie. When we came out, the weather had changed. There was a thunderstorm, ferocious winds, and rain.  We ran back to the car and ate our lunch, while trying to wait out the storm. The temperature had dropped from the upper 60’s to 43 degrees. We wanted to go to  Spruce Tree House, but with the rain and the wet asphalt, we just looked at it from the look out. We will go there on the next trip here. . Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House is the most accessible and the best preserved of the cliff dwellings. It is also the third largest dwelling.

The other Mesa, Wetherill Mesa was closed. Since we were wet and tired, we decided to return to the motor home. On the drive back, we spotted this snow on the road!Snow on the side of the road

We also saw snow had fallen on the distant mountains. Snow on the mountains

Snow on the mountains

When we arrived back at the motor home, the temperature was 45 degrees. We laid down and took a nap. When we got up, the temp was in the 60’s and there was not a cloud in the sky!

We grilled a steak, cooked the dog food, watched TV and went to bed.

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