Monday, July 23, 2012

Mesa Verde

Next stop on our summer adventure was Cortez to visit Mesa Verde National Park.  This Park was created in 1906 (the same year as the San Francisco Earthquake!) to protect the more than 5000 archaeological sites on the mesas and cliffs.  Six hundred of these sites are cliff dwellings.  Amazing!  Of these most are protected and preserved for future study; read: no public access.  The brochure suggests  planning at least half a day to visit those that are open!  We had one whole day planned and visited maybe 1/4 of all there is to see there.  A couple sites are open to self guided tours, several are ranger led, and there are many trails to more remote sites.  So much to see and not enough time!

The first surprise was the drive out from Cortez.  It's about 10 miles on the highway and then another 15 from the Park entrance up to the top of the Mesa.  To complicate things we were there in the middle of a chip sealing job on the road.  Point Lockout is the striking first hint at the awesomeness to come!

There are two separate areas to visit in the Park, Wetherill Mesa and Chapin Mesa.   We chose Chapin making our first stop at the Far View Visitors Center.  This is where visitors purchase tickets for the Ranger led tours. (Please excuse the Restroom sign and trash bins!  No Photoshop!)  The front side of the structure is a balcony overlooking mesas and canyons.

Not to far out is Cliff Palace, with a four story tower, and many kivas.  Rangers lead tours down to the site of the cliff dwelling but there's also a great vista point from the top of the trail.  (The tours were all quite large as we visited during the summer peak).

The kivas (underground circular structures ) were used for ceremonies by the Ancestral Puebloans (the term Anasazi that we learned in school is no longer in common use).  I also read that it's likely kivas were also used for sleeping during those cold, cold winters.  

There are several deep canyons separating the mesas in the Park.  There's no access from mesa to mesa without driving all the way back out and entering again on another finger of mesa.  They are kinda like peninsulas along the coast line of Maine.  Strange, but true, comparison!

Overlooks along the loop road allow vista of cliff dwelling on the far canyon walls.

Sunset House

House of Many Windows

The mesa above Hemenway House was a site of one of the devastating fires in the Park in the last 10-12 years.

The Park Administrative offices are located on the Chapin Mesa loop along with a Museum, gift shop and restaurants.  All the structures were designed to blend with the environment. 

An exhibit in the museum of pre-historic corn caught my fancy.  

Then it was time to explore the Spruce House!

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