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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Arches and The Canyonlands

Before leaving Montrose, a check of the forecast for Arches and Canyonlands National Park for the time we would be there indicated that midday temperatures were going to reach 100F. With that in mind it was obvious that getting an early start each morning would be the plan. It had been at least twenty years since I last visited Arches. At that time I was touring on a BMW motorcycle which was a concession to the fact that I wasn’t going to live long enough to see the American West using my favorite mode of transportation, a bicycle. However, as with most motorcycle trips it had essentially been a “fly by”. We would try to dig a little deeper this time.

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The arches are the reason folks come from all over the world to Arches NP and they are certainly worth the effort. Some are more spectacular or beautiful than others while some seem to defy anything we thought we knew about how arches and the laws of gravity work. However, to really appreciate the park’s uniqueness, it is also important to notice the other things. Strange, sometimes human-like, rock formations grace the landscape. At first glance one might think that the wind has sculpted the sandstone but that is not the case, rather in this arid place it is the endless effect of water, it’s freezing and thawing, that works the artistry. Shrubs like blackbrush and purple sage favor the shallow sandy soil, while greasewood and Mormon tea favor the alkalinity of the soil in this unimagined place. The dominant plant community in the parks, the pinyon-juniper woodland, find a home in the fractured bedrock.

The unique landscape of Arches NP.

Tunnel Arch.

Landscape Arch.

Rockscape.

Broken Arch.

Delicate Arch at sunrise.

Another view.

Tree

Signs from the past chipped into the desert varnish that often covers the rock. What signs will we leave?

Skyline Arch.

Tower of Babel

Purple Sage.

Sculpture.

The hardscrabble evidence of an early settler.

Double Arch.

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Our visit to Canyonlands differed from Arches in that we were mostly looking down at spectacular views from high mesas. In Arches, the sandstone, the result of an ancient sea, is a light yellow-orange in color. All of the formations consist of Navajo Sandstone dating from about 174 to 163 million years ago. In the Canyonlands, more layers are usually visible. Ancient sand was blown into the area from sea beds forming the white bands in the Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Red bands came from sediment carried down by streams from adjacent mountainous areas long since gone. These layers of sand were laid down on top of each other and created the park’s distinctive rocks.

Before sunrise near Mesa Arch.

Grand View trail, Canyonlands NP.

Morning sun.

Distant mesa.

The Colorado River.

A cave provides shelter from the heat.

An old cowboy camp took advantage.

Sunrise at Mesa Arch.

The canyonlands.

The Grand View point overlook.

Early morning along the canyon rim.

The Needles Area, Canyonlands NP.

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To take a journey back in time on the human scale Newspaper Rock was a mandatory stop as we left the Needles Area of Canyonlands NP. 

What’s the person in the middle doing?

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While I was captivated by the landscape my wife was looking for any critters that might appear.

Prairie sunflowers defy the arid landscape.

Longnose Leopard Lizard, (Donna).

Desert Spiny Lizard, (Donna).

Western Whiptail Lizard, (Donna).

Pale Evening Primrose.

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As I write this, we just finished exploring the 800 year old cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people in Mesa Verde NP. When I think of the fascinating geology, beautiful scenery, and intriguing history of the America west, I am in awe and we have barely scratched the surface. I hope this post wets your appetite for new adventures, perhaps in the American west. Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

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