Friday, May 25, 2012

Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde is a National Park in Southwestern Colorado, in the Four Corners area near Cortez. It is high mesa country criss-crossed by canyons. It contains about 600 cliff dwellings and several thousand surface ruins, dating from about 750 AD to 1300 AD. It's claim to fame is the cliff dwellings, built and occupied by the Anasazi, also called the Ancient Puebloans. These same people were also responsible for Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, Betatakin and Keet Seel in Arizona and other ruins. Below is a photograph of the Mesa Verde country showing some of the mesa tops and canyons.
Some time around 1100 the Anasazi began building their dwellings in caves in the cliff walls of the canyons, continuing to farm on the mesas. Several of these ruins are reasonably accessible, either as a guided tour or on your own. Balcony House, shown in photos below is one that is accessible only as part of a ranger guided tour.
The two photos above show the ladder by which one gets into Balcony House--not for the faint of heart. The photo below is of a small kiva, roofless. There is evidence that when the Anasazi left these sites they took the roofs off the kivas.
The next two photos show structures at Balcony House and the narrow space between structures and the edge of the canyon. A hell of a place for an Anasazi mother to try and keep track of a toddler.
The photo below shows the exit from Balcony House. You have to get down on hands and knees and hope you aren't too wide. An excellent defensive spot.
The next stop is Spruce Tree House, which you can tour on your own. It can be viewed from the museum and a trail leads from the museum to the ruin. The photo below is taken from the museum.
The photo below shows some structures and a kiva with a ladder sticking out. This is the way most kivas were entered. I believe that this one at Spruce Tree House is a restoration.
The next photo is of manos(small stones held in the hand) and metates(the large stones) which were used for grinding corn.
The next ruin, shown below, is Square Tower House. This is a small ruin, I don't believe open to the general public.
Cliff Palace is the largest of the ruins, accessible only by means of a ranger guided tour. The first photo below is from across the canyon in the late afternoon. The second one is structures within Cliff Palace up close and personal during an evening guided tour. The third photo is of our guide, a professor from the University of New Mexico. He took the part of Richard Wetherill, dressed like him and would tell you anything about the area that was known to Richard Wetherill in about 1900. Very interesting.
Richard Wetherill, a member of a Colorado ranching family, is generally given credit for putting Mesa Verde on the map, although there were a couple of Anglos before him, including the pioneer photographer William Henry Jackson in 1874 and Virginia McClurg in 1882-1885. On December 18, 1888 Richard and Charlie Mason saw and entered Cliff Palace, the largest of the cliff dwellings, the first Anglos to do so. He explored and excavated, doing some damage in the process. At that time most people including archaeologists were not interested in preservation but rather more interested in collecting artifacts. For a number of years the Wetherills maintained a guest house on their ranch for visitors who wished to see the Mesa Verde ruins. In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt made Mesa Verde a National Park. Richard Wetherill named the people who built these ruins “Anasazi", a Navajo name meaning “ancient enemies”. Richard Wetherill also discovered Keet Seel ruin and homesteaded and built a trading post at Chaco Canyon. He did excavating and artifact finding for the American Museum of Natural History at Chaco. He was killed at Chaco in 1910 and his body is buried just west of Pueblo Bonito. President Roosevelt declared Chaco Canyon a National Monument in 1907, and Richard Wetherill gave up his homestead claim. Richard Wetherill's grave along with his wife's grave is shown below.
The last photo and my particular favorite shows a half moon rising over Cliff Palace. I wish I could get the sun and moon to cooperate like this all the time. Oh, well. When they do it's great!