Mesa Verde National Park
Visitor Centre statue of the ancient one
A most odd park with few walks as it is all sheer rock faces and mountains. Explaining this park is impossible. Basically around 750 AD Ancestral Puebloans lived in modest pit houses, a load of which can be seen in Mesa Top Loop. Then around 1150AD a small proportion moved on to building sophisticated cliff dwellings, some several storeys high. They accessed them by climbing the cliff faces, sometimes cutting hand and toe holds, sometimes using ladders and ropes. Around 1300 they left – no-one knows why.
We visited on Ranger led tours, using ladders and crawling through an entrance tunnel. Annoyingly these were again described as strenuous, but no more so than a tour of a stately home – aaargh!
These places are amazing and photographs do not look real. The sites were dealt with as archaeological sites were at the time, artefacts were sold to pay for the dig! No pre-disturbance surveys were carried out, and looting was taking place so the park was created in 1906 mainly to protect a few pots remaining. There are 6,700 archaeological sites on the Mesa, 600 of which are cliff dwellings of this World Heritage site.
Stunning views of unreal cliff dwellings
balcony house exit
square tower house
We were given details of how a Kiva should look, and yet one of the Kivas was set up incorrectly. When pushed a Ranger admitted there may be 'reconstruction issues'. Nobody seems to know much and we both were frustrated by the lack of knowledge. There are even notice boards that inaccurately state small herds of bison roamed the area, but they didn't.
The museum has some old models of the people and their daily activities etc. The Rangers appear not to like these models because they are wildly inaccurate. However, under National Parks regs anything over 50 years old, which includes these models, and even the campground garage, becomes an antiquity and has to be preserved. We rather liked the models though.
We have had fun here and our last walk was spent photographing a new critter to us. The mountain short horn lizard looked like a squashed frog to us. There were lots of babies on the mountain walk today and they kept us amused.
Mule deer mums and fauns are normally all over the campsite, but a very bad blizzard in May destroyed all the acorn crop this year, their main diet staple at this time. The altitude and lack of water makes the oaks strangely short with branches that often grow more horizontal than vertical. The park also has a lot of turkey vultures, but we cannot work out what they eat as there are so few predators in this park to leave carrion for them.