A Journey Back In Time, Mesa Verde NP

One comes to Mesa Verde National Park not for dramatic scenery, although it is spectacular when compared to many places in Ohio, but instead to take a journey back in time and in doing so to be caught up in the wonder of how an ancient people lived.

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The ancient Puebloans called the area home for almost 1000 years and during the last approximately 100 years, before mysteriously leaving around 1300 AD, they built elaborate cliff dwellings. They were hunter gatherers and practiced dry land farming. The ingenuity employed to capture the scarce rainfall for crops as well as other uses was truly amazing. Their pit houses and cliff dwellings, which provided an amazing degree of protection from the area’s mid-day heat, are marvels of engineering. One wonders why such an intelligent culture never saw the need to develop a written language. One answer would appear to do with the fact that written language was developed in “old world” cultures when the complexity of farming and trade practices necessitated the keeping of records. This soon led to language being further developed and employed in other areas of human endeavor. The ancient Puebloans apparently had no such need.

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As early as about 500 AD, before there were cliff dwelling, pit houses on the mesa tops were primarily where people lived. These structures evolved over hundreds of years into the adobe houses we see in the American southwest today.

Cutaway of a pit house. A ladder positioned in the rectangular hole in the center of the roof provided access. The mud roof kept the interior cool.

This particular pit house was incorporated into a cliff dwelling. A common practice.

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This photo, typical of the landscape, shows the mesa tops, cliffs, and canyons that comprise Mesa Verde. Hundreds of cliff dwellings and food storage areas have been found along the canyon walls. There are other cliff dwellings in the west but none this extensive.

Mesa Verde landscape.

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Cliff Palace on Chapin Mesa, the largest of the cliff dwellings.

Cliff Palace.

From the other end.

Cliff Palace window.

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The following photos illustrate how well concealed some of the cliff dwellings were.

Note white arrow,

Enlarged section.

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The mesa edge can be precipitous so perhaps the cliff dwellings were for protection. But from whom? No archeological evidence of violence has been found.

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At it’s peak, 7000 to 15,000 inhabitants may have lived in the area. If that was the case any number of factors, forgetting about an external threat by other indigenous people, may have led to their seemingly abrupt departure.

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Balcony House on the Chapin Mesa:

Balcony House

Balcony House

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Long House on the Wetherill Mesa:

Long House

Long House

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Canyon edge:

In places, Rabbit Bush in bloom and long since dead juniper frame the canyon.

Large rocks often create an interesting counterpoint to the canyon below.

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Fire caused by lightening strikes has shaped the landscape of the mesa tops. Many generations are required for the trees to come back.

The mesa top still shows the effects of a fire that may have burned the area 20 or 30 years ago.

Ute Peak looms in the distance through branches laid bare by a long ago fire.

With little to cause their deterioration fire damaged tree remain lonely sentinels on the landscape.

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But in this dry environment, so vulnerable to fire, life goes on.

Tailcup lupine.

Prairie Sunflower

Rabbit Bush.

This flower, perhaps Munro’s Globemallow, was seen in only one isolated location.

Sulphurflower Buckwheat.

A White Breasted Nuthatch near our campsite.

Raven.

Other butterflies eluded us but we did manage to get a picture of this tiny Western Branded Skipper.

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Barbed wire fence study. One can only wonder at it’s age.

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So after almost four weeks we bid farewell to Utah and Colorado. Now, over a week after our return, the trip is still fresh on our minds and energizes us to think about what might be next. Perhaps the American northwest? Other adventures always await.

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Thanks for stopping by.

 

The rig, GMC Yukon/Lance 1995.

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4 Comments on “A Journey Back In Time, Mesa Verde NP

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