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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A Celebration of Color and Form, Capital Reef and Bryce Canyon NP

We were looking forward to cooler weather as we left Arches and Canyonlands on our way to Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon National Park . Several days of waking up at 4 AM to beat the heat, and sometimes the crowds, had taken it’s toll. In addition, shorter drives to trail heads and points of interest, as well as a shuttle bus at Bryce, promised a more relaxed pace.

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Capitol Reef embraces a geological formation called the Waterpocket Fold which is a nearly 100-mile long warp in the Earth’s crust, a step-up in the rock layers. The most scenic portion is found near the Fremont River where one can see white domes of Navajo Sandstone and the park’s colorful cliffs. Three steps, each of which occurred over millions of years, created the captivating landscape: deposition, Colorado Plateau uplift, and finally erosion. The erosion that sculpted the current landscape occurred within the last 20 million years with the major canyon formation probably occurred between one and six million years ago. Putting this into perspective, the oldest human fossil is 2.8 million years old while at the other extreme some of the oldest surface rock in north America, between 2500 and 3800 million years old, can be found in the Canadian Shield.

As one hikes the park trails some rock looks as though it was just placed there yesterday.

The Grand Wash Trail.

Along Cohab Trail.

Shaded and sunlit rocks, a challenge for the photographer.

Indian Paintbrush.

Along the trail through the Grand Wash.

“Capitol” and a tree.

Petroglyphs and grass along RT 24 in the park.

More petroglyphs along Rt 24.

Bristlecone Pine.

Capitol Gorge, once the only east to west route through the park.

Chimney Rock near sunset.

Tree and sculpted sandstone.

The Reef.

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Leaving Capitol Reef and travelling about 100 miles to Bryce Canyon takes one to a very different world. Situated along a high plateau at the top of an area known as the Grand Staircase, the park includes a series of natural amphitheaters and contains the earths largest concentration of irregular columns of rock (hoodoos). It’s geology is unique but along with sandstone formations the stretch the imagination the park is home to numerous beautiful wooded and meadow landscapes.

Along the rim trail, a lone pine looks down into the hoodoos.

Hiking down through “Wall Street” from Sunrise Pt.

Looking up.

Along the Swamp Canyon trail grass sparkles in the early morning sunlight.

A Limber Pine casts it’s shadow at the canyons edge along the Rim Trail.

Flowering Rabbit Bush contrasts with the colors of the rock.

Bristlecone Pine.

A view from the edge along the Rim Trail.

Juxtaposition.

Fallen tree, rock, and sky along the trail below Sunrise Pt.

Hoodoos frame a long dead Bristlecone Pine.

Looking up along the trail below Sunrise Pt.

Hanging on at the very edge.

Natural Bridge.

Along the Mossy Cave Trail.

View from the Bristlecone Trail loop.

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As we explored the parks, and hiked the trails, we were always on the lookout for wildlife and we were usually not disappointed.

Desert Spiny Lazard, (Donna).

Black Phoebe, (Donna).

Connecticut Warbler, (Donna).

Young Short Eared Lizard, (Donna).

Hummingbird checks out a flower, (Donna).

Mountain Chickadee, (Donna).

Steller Jay, (Donna).

Eastern Fence Lizard, (Donna).

Weidemeyer’s Admiral, (Donna).

Black-throated Sparrow, an active an elusive bird, (Donna).

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, (Donna).

Utah Prairie Dogs had their “towns” not far from the Bryce Canyon NP Lodge. The Utah Prairie Dog is the western most of the five species that inhabit North America. Limited to the southwestern quarter of Utah, the Utah Prairie Dog has the most restricted range of all prairie dog species. (NPS), (Donna).

Clark’s Nutcracker, (Donna).

Sagebrush Lizard, (Donna).

Immature Western Bluebird, (Donna).

Mature Mountain Bluebird, (Donna).

Hedgerow Hairstreak, (Donna).

Melissa Blue, (Donna).

Rock Wren, (Donna).

 

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As we wrap up our stay at Bryce, our westernmost destination, we look forward to a different type of adventure at Mesa Verde NP where we will travel back in time. Thanks for stopping by.

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Photos by Donna

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