Mesa Verde National Park

Tuesday, August 2, 2022 

62 degrees at 4:00 am, high of 92

Mesa Verde and San Juan Mountains

Mesa Verde National Park is an American national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Montezuma CountyColorado. The park protects some of the best-preserved Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites in the United States.

Established by Congress and President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the park occupies 52,485 acres (21,240 ha) near the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. With more than 5,000 sites, including 600 cliff dwellings,[2] it is the largest archaeological preserve in the United States.[3] Mesa Verde (Spanish for “green table”, or more specifically “green table mountain”) is best known for structures such as Cliff Palace, thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America.

Starting c. 7500 BC Mesa Verde was seasonally inhabited by a group of nomadic Paleo-Indians known as the Foothills Mountain Complex. The variety of projectile points found in the region indicates they were influenced by surrounding areas, including the Great Basin, the San Juan Basin, and the Rio Grande Valley. Later, Archaicpeople established semi-permanent rock shelters in and around the mesa. By 1000 BC, the Basketmaker cultureemerged from the local Archaic population, and by 750 AD the Ancestral Puebloans had developed from the Basketmaker culture.

The Mesa Verdeans survived using a combination of hunting, gathering, and subsistence farming of crops such as corn, beans, and squash. They built the mesa’s first pueblos sometime after 650, and by the end of the 12th century, they began to construct the massive cliff dwellings for which the park is best known. By 1285, following a period of social and environmental instability driven by a series of severe and prolonged droughts, they abandoned the area and moved south to locations in Arizona and New Mexico, including the Rio Chama, the Albuquerque Basin, the Pajarito Plateau, and the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. From:

We went to the visitor’s Center for a more complete study. It was crowded, but we worked our way around exhibits and signs. Then we went for the mesa top loop drive, but getting there takes 30-40 minutes on a twisting mountain road and going through one tunnel. Several overlooks gave the big picture of the four corners area of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. We are driving “The Grand Circle” trying to see all the National Parks and Monuments. These parks house some of the most incredible stone, rock, field and cliff structures that were built around 1,000 years ago. All of these sites were abandoned around 1300. As the modern Indians say, “We are still here. We just moved.”

Mostly, they lived below the mesas, in the many natural alcoves that provided protection and cover. There was more water then, and they developed farming techniques and incredible building techniques. They are known for their beautiful bowls, rock art and baskets. So many questions run through my mind. Why did they live there? How did they live there? How did they climb those cliffs? Why was it abandoned all over the Colorado Plateau? What were they afraid of?

Early Anglo explorers of these dwellings were often so struck with these places, they became obsessed, like Richard Wetherill, Dominguez, Escalante, Jackson, and others. I am reading a book called, “In Search of the Old Ones” by David Roberts. He too became obsessed in his travels and study, looking for answers, but also just being in these sites thrilled him.

For the many tribes still living in these areas, these areas are sacred. They believe these were their original homes, and the spirits are still there. They are not interested in thousands of people walking through these places. They don’t want them dug up for archaeological study. Yet, they often let their cattle and horses graze the land.

Mule Deer in camp

Perhaps cursed by the spirits of Chaco Canyon, our pack rat licked the peanut butter off two mouse traps, so I put Swiss cheese on them.

  2 comments for “Mesa Verde National Park

  1. Curtis
    August 21, 2022 at 11:14 pm

    Great stuff
    Can’t tell you how much I enjoy your travels with Martha.
    I very eager to follow in your footsteps.

    • August 22, 2022 at 7:08 am

      So good to hear from you Curtis, and so glad to have you along for the ride. You are always welcome to come and join us any time.

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