Wednesday, August 3, 2022
We were lucky, very lucky to get a tour of Cliff Palace. We knew nothing about Mesa Verde, just that it was a national park, and I wanted to see the national parks and monuments. Perhaps it is fortunate I am writing this three weeks late.
Built approximately 1190, and added to until 1260, it was abandoned by 1300. It is the largest cliff dwelling in North America, and one of the most impressive. It was built late in the Pueblo III period, the most impressive building period. As we saw in Chaco Canyon, people traveled impressive distances, and trade products came from the west coast and Mesoamerica (Central America).
In 1888 Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason would rediscover it. The Wetherill family continuously moved before settling on the Mancos River, starting the Alamo Ranch. Alamo is derived from the Spanish word for cottonwood. Benjamin Wetherill had five sons, Richard being the oldest. The young men enjoyed searching the canyons in winter when ranch work was done. They had discovered minor cliff dwellings.
They had good relations with Indians, and although Richard had only a high school education, he read and studied a lot. “Meanwhile, they befriended the Ute chief, Acowitz. One day, twenty miles down the Mancos from the ranch, Acowitz walked up to Richard Wetherill as he stared at the twisting bends of Cliff Canyon, where he had never been.
At that moment, Acowitz chose to tell his cowboy friend something he had told no other white man. far up Cliff Canyn, near it’s head, he avowed, stood many houses of the ancientt ones. “One of those houses,” said Acowitz, “high, high in the rocks, is bigger than all the others. Utes never go there. It is a sacred place.” From: “In Search of the Old Ones”, by David Roberts.
Continuing: “Almost two years passed. On a bitter day in December 1888, with snow in the wind, Richard and his brother-in-law Charlie Mason rode horseback along the rim of Mesa Verde above Cliff Canyon, tracking cattle that had strayed far from their usual pastures. Twenty-five miles from the Alamo ranch, the cowboys knew they faced a cold bivouac under the pines before they could bring the cattle in.
A looping track drew the two men near the mesa’s edge, where a cliff dropped sheer to the talus below. They dismounted, walked to the rim, and gazed east across the head of Cliff Canyon. Suddenly Richard blurted out a cry of astonishment.
Half a mile away, in the cliff forming the canyon’s opposite wall, loomed an overhang that sheltered a natural cavern fully four hundred feet long by ninety feet deep. Inside it stood the pristine ruins of an ancient city, more than two hundred rooms built back-to-back of stone and mud, dominated by a round three-story tower. So this was the place Acowitz had told Richard about! “It looks like a palace”, murmured Mason.”
I love the way the original park buildings were made to resemble the cliff dwellings. The ancient ones were small, the women 5′ and men 5’5″, so doors were smaller. Windows were smaller before glass. Doors were smaller too, although they may have hung a rug or deer hide.
In 2015 the National Park lit luminaries in Cliff Palace for a centennial celebration. From the Durango Herald: