Exploring Ancient Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park
Okay guys, I am ALMOST done playing show and tell from our family road trip that we took in June! This was our main destination = exploring ancient cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park!
My good friend Wikipedia is going to step in here and share a bit about Mesa Verde with yall:
Mesa Verde is a National Park and World Heritage Site located in Montezuma County, Colorado. It protects some of the best preserved Ancestral Puebloan archeological sites in the United States.
Created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, it occupies 52,485 acres near the Four Corners region of the American Southwest, and with more than 4,300 sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, it is the largest archeological preserve in the US. Mesa Verde (Spanish for “green table”) is best known for structures such as Cliff Palace, thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America.
Starting c. 7500 BCE, Mesa Verde was seasonally inhabited by a group of nomadic Paleo-Indians known as the Foothills Mountain Complex. The variety of projectile points found in the region indicates they were influenced by surrounding areas, including the Great Basin, the San Juan Basin, and the Rio Grande Valley.
Later, Archaic people established semi-permanent rock shelters in and around the mesa. By 1000 BCE, the Basketmaker culture emerged from the local Archaic population, and by 750 CE the Ancestral Puebloans had developed from the Basketmaker culture.
The Mesa Verdeans survived using a combination of hunting, gathering, and subsistence farming of crops such as corn, beans, and squash. They built the mesa’s first pueblos sometime after 650, and by the end of the 12th century, they began to construct the massive cliff dwellings for which the park is best known.
By 1285, following a period of social and environmental instability driven by a series of severe and prolonged droughts, they abandoned the area and moved south to locations in Arizona and New Mexico, including Rio Chama, Pajarito Plateau, and Santa Fe.
My parents were absolute champs with this stop, and watched out two daughters (too young to come along) while we went on a guided excursion to Balcony House. With 40 rooms, Balcony House is considered a medium size cliff dwelling. Evidence of how room and passageway construction in the alcove evolved through time can easily be seen in Balcony House.
The tunnels, passageways, and 32 foot entrance ladder hanging on the side of the canyon wall are what make it the most adventurous cliff dwelling tour in the park, so we HAD to do this trek. And MAN, was it a thrill!!
After visiting Balcony House, we did another ranger guided tour of Cliff Palace, the main attraction of Mesa Verde. This this is simply unbelievable, you have to see it to believe it.. picture DO NOT do it justice!
Recent studies reveal that Cliff Palace contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas and had a population of approximately 100 people. Out of the nearly 600 cliff dwellings concentrated within the boundaries of the park, 75% contain only 1-5 rooms each, and many are single room storage units. Cliff Palace is an exceptionally large dwelling which may have had special significance to the original occupants. It is thought that Cliff Palace was a social, administrative site with high ceremonial usage.
Sandstone, mortar and wooden beams were the three primary construction materials for the cliff dwellings. The Ancestral Pueblo people shaped each sandstone block using harder stones collected from nearby river beds. The mortar between the blocks is a mixture of local soil, water and ash. Fitted in the mortar are tiny pieces of stone called “chinking.” Chinking stones filled the gaps within the mortar and added structural stability to the walls. Over the surface of many walls, the people decorated with earthen plasters of pink, brown, red, yellow, or white — the first things to erode with time.