There are probably only a few of you who know, that something that is on my own personal “Bucket List”
is to visit ALL 58 of the U.S. National Parks, but having said that; this particular park was one of those that I was not terribly excited about visiting. But after having now done it, I would have to say that this park actually turned my opinion of it completely around now. It was much more interesting than I would have ever expected.
There were some really interesting things that happened while we were in the park though. One of those was the fact that I always "thought" there was just one of these cliff dwelling sites in the park, but actually there are over 20 mesa top sites and view points which may be visited on your own while in the park.
By being unoccupied for many centuries, they have been weakened by natural forces. Some were so badly damaged by looters before the area was made a national park. So they make sure that maximum protection is given to the dwellings in order to preserve them. One regulation that is strictly enforced, is that visitors may enter cliff dwellings ONLY when accompanied by a Park Ranger. However, there are over 4,000 known archeological sites in Mesa Verde National Park, 600 of which are cliff dwellings. Only a few of these sites have been excavated so far.
Archeological sites of many different types are accessible to visitors. They range from pit-houses built during the 500s to the cliff dwellings of the 1200s. So you can actually see how they progressed over that 700 year period. Of all the things there are in the park to see, the cliff dwellings are the most spectacular, but the mesa top pit-houses and pueblos are equally important. Seen in their chronological order, these sites show the architectural development of Mesa Verde.
Mrs. LZ and I actually viewed them in the wrong order (chronologically speaking) but it may have been even more impressive than doing it the other way around. And, although I did take a picture in one of the ceremonial rooms (with the ladder into it) It was really just an empty room. To think that they basically started in a hole and worked their way out and up with very rudimentary tools just seemed amazing to us.
Another point that the park rangers made was that area was inhabited for about 800 years by agricultural people who began to drift into the area shortly after the beginning of the Christian Era. The National Parks rangers call the first farming people in the Mesa Verde area the Basketmakers (A.D.1-400), because weaving excellent baskets was their outstanding craft. At this early date, the people did not make pottery, build houses, or use the bow and arrow. No sites dating from the early Basketmakers have been found within the boundaries of Mesa Verde National Park. Then around the year A.D. 400, the people began to make pottery and build roofed dwellings.
Around the year A.D. 750, they began to use the bow and arrow. Although the people were still the same, the culture was changing. Archeologists call these people the Modified Basket-makers (A.D. 400-750). The pit-houses were built in alcoves and on the mesa tops. Scores of pit-house villages have been found on the mesas, and two pit-houses have been reconstructed at Mesa Verde.
Starting about A.D. 750, the people grouped their houses together to form compact villages. These have been given the name of "pueblo", a Spanish term meaning village. The name, Developmental Pueblo (A.D. 750-1000), simply indicated that during this period there was a great deal of experimentation and development. Many types of house walls were used; adobe and poles, stone slabs topped with adobe, adobe and stones, and finally layered masonry. The houses were joined together to form compact clusters around open courts. In these courts were pit-houses which grew deeper and finally developed into ceremonial rooms we now refer to as kivas.
During their last century, some Pueblo Indians of Mesa Verde left the mesa tops and built their homes in the alcoves that abound in the many canyon walls. This last period marks the climax of the Pueblo culture in Mesa Verde and is known as the Classic Pueblo Period (A.D. 1100-1300). The exact number of dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park is unknown, but over 600 cliff dwellings have been documented.
There were several things that we noticed about these Cliff Dwellings, like the fact that you can see the blackened areas where there campfires were. The other noticeable thing for us was that these places all seem to be located so that they were protected from both the sun as well as the elements. Another thing was the fact that many of these structures could be seen on both sides of the canyons. And from the road driving around this area you could view many of them.
Lots of people have asked us why these people left this area and we were told by the park rangers that beginning in A.D. 1276, drought struck the region and for 23 years precipitation was scarce. One by one the springs dried up and the people were in serious trouble. Their only escape was to seek regions which had a more dependable water supply. People left village after village. Before the drought ended, these people had left Mesa Verde area.
In 1906 two new things happened in the United States. Mesa Verde National Park was created and Congress passed the Antiquities Act. Mesa Verde was the first National Park established to protect a historic feature, the famous cliff dwelling houses built by Native Americans over 600 years ago. The Antiquities Act did something equally important. It allowed the President to set aside government-owned lands as National Monuments.
Mesa Verde National Park is located in the high plateau country of Southwestern Colorado. The park itself lies atop a high mesa that rises from the canyon of the Mancos River, a tributary of the San Juan River. The Mancos has cut a deep, broad valley along the eastern and southern edge of Mesa Verde, which in turn is dissected by 15 canyons formed by smaller streams. This erosional action has thus created many smaller mesas. Two of these, Wetherill and Chapin mesas, provide the primary access to most of the park's public archeological sites.
Mesa Verde National Park encompasses 52,122 acres, about 81 square miles. It runs about 9 miles both east-to-west and north-to-south. Elevation on Mesa Verde varies between 6,000 and 8,500 feet.
So to all of you who may not have been excited about a visit to this particular National Park, let me advise you to move it up higher on your own National Parks “Bucket List!”
Also I'd watch out for climbing in the bushes where you can see that one sign while in the park too!“Man's heart away from nature becomes hard.”
~ Chief (Luther) Standing Bear