We had no idea what to expect when we headed to Mesa Verde National Park. A friend who lives in Durango strongly recommended it so we put it on our route. Our atlas told us about the mysterious Anasazi peole said to have lived in the park and mysteriously vanished—a story later revealed to be outdated by a friendly park ranger—and that there were cliff dwellings.
Naively we assumed it would be a similar rocky southwest landscape, being not far over the border from Utah. Having been to Arches and Canyonlands, so near to each other and yet such entirely different landscape worlds, we should have known better. Even if we had, we still would have had our hats AND our socks knocked off because Mesa Verde is spectacular.
We entered Colorado on a tiny road we took out of Moab, winding our way in and noting that Colorado really is colorful. We arrived at Mesa Verde and drove up and up and up onto a plateau, getting a new gorgeous scene at each elevation. Up and up and up. To a lookout where our jaws dropped, all kinds of cliched reactions of amazement from us and the other travelers on the ridge. Then up and up and up some more. We stopped to see a cliff dwelling and the magic intensified.
If you ever have a chance to go to Mesa Verde, DO IT! All the National Parks we visited were breathtaking, gorgeous, true wonders, but this one really took us by surprise somehow. We were lucky enough to stay over in the park, getting a tiny feel for what it might be like to live there, up above, in the quiet. The next morning we took a ranger-guided tour of one of Balcony House, which included climbing a couple steep ladders and crawling through a tunnel. They think that the balcony was the nursery for the community, as it was the only place with a railing on the ledges over the cliff.
A few other facts/theries I jotted down in my phone:
> they found that juniper bark was very absorbent and used it for diapers
> the architecture uses a combination of square and round shapes, representing male and female
> the dwellings were built in the 1200s, the same time Notre Dame was built and Marco Polo was getting ready to head to China
> for mortar they used dirt and water. their building also featerued corn cobs and chinking stones to hold the bricks in place. the walls were plastered yearly, then natural pigments were added, painted with the fibers of a yucca plant
> the dwellings featured small doors to maintain heat and cool
> underground community areas called kivas (“underneath room”) were the site of community and storytelling—you’ll see them pictured w/o a ceiling, but really they were enclosed—they were the place of legacy and heritage, the passing on of stories. grandfathers would gather and tell the children stories to memorize so they could pass them on
> the wood you see in the dwellings is original! often the rooms were 6 beams—representing the 6 directions, the 6 colors of corn
> the average life span was mid-30s—less for women. 50%+ infant mortality rate. men were typically 5’5” or 5’6”. needed agility and strength to survive. women were likely carrying pots of water on their heads as they climbed the steep ladders
> speaking of agility—they invented crutches just like we use today
> they did abandon the area at some point, it is thought due to drought and a dwindling of resources. later the Ancestral Puebloans had to go underground to protect their traditions from the Americans and the Spanish, but they still survive today and people come to the site to perform traditional rituals still today
> the ranger asked at the end of the talk—What will our legacy be?
> there was a story of a wise woman, spider woman, who said in life it is good to go out and see other parts of the world