My final unrealized goal for our western adventure was to see cliff dwellings. I hadn’t gotten to see them at Walnut Canyon because the altitude (not entirely unexpectedly) made me ill. So I had high hopes for Mesa Verde, in the San Juan National Park. Mesa Verde did not disappoint me!
Before we even saw the park and archeological sites, we were wowed by the visitor’s center. It is one of the most beautiful public buildings I’ve seen anywhere!
There are a number of eras represented at Mesa Verde, spanning thousands of years. The first thing I learned is that the descendants of these people, today’s Pueblo Indians, do NOT like hearing them referred to as “Anasazi,” which means “ancient enemy” in Navajo! However, much of the archaeological material about the ancestral Puebloans, whose culture dates back to 1200 BC, still refers to them by this name. The romanticized notion of an ancient civilization which mysteriously disappeared for no reason before white men came was pretty much an invention to attract Victorian tourists. The climate changed in the the 12th-14th centuries and the Puebloans migrated gradually southwards towards areas where water was more consistently available.
There are a number of pueblos open to the public; you can actually walk around the remarkably intact thousand-year-old ruins.
The reservoir design was fascinating.
The ventilation shafts for the dwellings and kivas were simply and elegantly engineered.
The nature in the park is quite lovely in the springtime. The trails among the Pueblo dwellings and kivas were quite manageable for us, even with our bad joints.
The most exciting part was viewing the cliff dwellings. Towards the end of their time in the region, the Puebloans gradually migrated down from the mesa tops to live in huge, arched, shallow caves on the side of the mountain itself. There is a tour available which allows you to actually enter such a house, but it involves climbing a 30-foot ladder and crawling on hands and knees down a narrow stone tunnel, all of which Steve and I might be able to accomplish…if we were being chased by zombies. Between his acrophobia, my claustrophobia, our girth, our bad knees, and my wrist arthritis, it was so not happening.
But there are a number of overlooks with a good view of the cliff dwellings from the other side of the canyon. We took our time, admiring these beautiful, abandoned homes on the cliffside.
We admired ancient artifacts at the museum, reluctant to leave this place so permeated with ancient history.