Can you believe it? We spent 4.5 months about a dozen miles away from this National Park, we have a years pass to get us in for free….and we never made it!!
We stopped by the Visitor Center during the summer and decided to check back once school was back in session and the crowds a little less. But life happens. Everette and Mitchell were gone for a month, and then they were busy helping on Tim’s house, and weekends were often wet, and when the weather was nice and we were about to go….the government shutdowns. Then the day we pulled out of town it opened. Just a bit too late for us on this trip.
But we are okay with it all. It is what it is. And there may be a Next Time sometime.
This map shows the 4 native people groups that used to live in the Four Corners.
Long before Europeans explored North American, the Anasazi (from a Navajo word meaning “the ancient ones”. These people are now referred to as “Ancestral Pueblo to reflect their contemporary descendants.”
Mesa verde means ‘green table’, so named by the first Spanish explorers because of the lush mountain scrublands along with the pinyon-juniper forests covering the area. Geologically it is a cuesta (not a mesa) since it is tilted rather than flat.
The land tilts towards the sun about 7% which created warmer conditions to successfully grow corn and other crops. It added about 20 extra growing days for the Pueblo people over those of the surrounding valleys.
There was limited rainfall and extreme temperatures. Water was a challenge for growing crops. “The Ancestral Pueblos built reservoirs & stone-walled terraces to capture & control soil run-off. Called check dams, these structures created fertile, level plots to grow corn, squash, and beans. ” Thousands of these stone check dams are found throughout the Mesa Verde region.
Mesa Verde has an abundance of natural alcoves in the canyon walls which became elaborate multi-room dwellings when the Ancestral Pueblo people began building these cliff dwellings in the late 1100’s from sandstone, chipped and shaped into blocks.
“Like modern communities, the dwellings consist of structures intended for different uses: rooms for living, rooms for storage or refuse, plazas for public gathering or work, ceremonial rooms, and towers that offer views of the canyon.”
Living in these cliff dwellings required daily rock climbing: scaling the cliffs could be dangerous and difficult. Often the tops of the mesa were reached by using hand-and-toe hold trails carved into the sandstone cliffs. Made “much more difficult in winter, or when carrying a child, food, water, firewood or animal carcasses.”
This man is shaping stones for building purposes, which was usually made of sandstone. Sometimes they were used in the shape they were found, or shaped into blocks of varying sizes.
Harder stone such as quartzite, was used to shape the softer sandstone.
About 1100-1300 A.D. they did the hard work of shaping and chipping stones to create an even rectangular block. The pocked surface may have helped when plastering. Mixing soil and water produces mortar, a mixture that was used as cement to help hold the stones in place. Small stones were often incorporated into the mortar to possibly reduce shrinkage, therefore creating a stronger wall. These small stones were called chinking stones.
For unknown reasons many of the Ancestral Pueblo peoples began to leave in the late 1200’s. Over several decades they appeared to have traveled south, to settle among their kin already living in New Mexico and Arizona.
On our way out of the visitor center we sat and contemplated life around this statue:
Notes: Quotes from park signage.
- 10 Incredible Ancient Cliff Dwellings (environmentalgraffiti.com)
- Top 5 Driving Vacations in the United States (epicatravel.com)