What a great experience with so much to learn during such a short period of time. This tour only lasted an hour but provided enough information to last several hours. We saw how their structures were built using surrounding resources including logs, stones, and a special mud to hold it all together. Kivas were built underground and used as ceremonial gathering places. The Puebloans that lived here carved holes into the side of the cliff in order to ascend to the top of the mesa where they farmed and hunted for food. As we continued to explore this community built into a cliff, the advantages of living here became apparent. Protection from many of the elements and even potential enemies was a great benefit. During rain or snow they were able to stay dry and on a hot summers day there was plenty of refreshing shade in cool locations to stay comfortable. The placement of many of these communities allowed for the rising or setting sun to warm the cave and I’m sure provided magnificent sunrises or sunsets. As we continued to explore this community built into a cliff, the darkened ceiling continues to give proof of the fires that were used inside the cave. After wondering in and out of accessible parts of Spruce Tree House and satisfying our curiosities while at the same time creating more, it was time to ascend back to the museum.
The exhibits back at the museum had a much larger impact after seeing the actual living conditions presented in Spruce Tree House. We were eager to continue this adventure in Mesa Verde National Park by exploring more cliff dwellings and even witnessing how the Puebloans existed before building in the caves of these cliffs. Driving the Mesa Top Loop brought us to a number of different stopping points to look at other cliff dwellings and pit houses. These pit houses were built on top of the cliffs before the Puebloan people began building in the caves. Pit houses are partially dug into the ground with timbers and mud used for the roofs. Pit houses eventually evolved into stone and mud buildings bringing the necessary skills to build in the caves. There are several cliff dwellings along this loop with the largest be Cliff Palace. Cliff Palace is a beautiful compilation of buildings all contained in this large cavernous cliff. Why some of the structures are square while others are round still captivates my curiosity. Why are some buildings several stories tall with many others containing only a floor or two?
As we started nearing the end of Mesa Top Loop the temperature was beginning to cool and the daylight weaning signaling the end of our day. We were all tiring from this adventure and had been fighting hunger for a couple of hours eating every snack available in the car. It was time for the 21 mile drive towards the exit and another few miles to our place of rest for the night. As we found our way to the exit the entrance sign appeared which had been missed earlier in the day. The reason for missing the sign became apparent once we saw the mound of snow surrounding it. We stopped and attempted several pictures but there just wasn’t enough light to accomplish the task. Another trip the next day was in order to capture this final photo.
What a great adventure with so many new discoveries!
It was a beautiful mid-March morning in Albuquerque New Mexico as we packed up the car and headed north towards Colorado. A quick stop at Petroglyph National Monument on the way so that we could capture a last picture or two and get our National Parks Monopoly board signed and then we were on our way to Mesa Verde National Park. With Albuquerque in our rear view mirror we turned on to US-550 for our 5 hour drive into the southwest corner of Colorado. Along the way we enjoyed the amazing rock sculptures showing off the many layers and colors. It wasn’t long before we could see snow covered mountains in the distance giving us a pre-view of where we were heading. Time continued to tick by as we were immersed in the ever changing scenery when we arrived at the Colorado border. It was time to stop the car and stretch our legs and take the requisite photo by the Colorado sign and then quick dart across the road to take a picture with the New Mexico sign proving we were in both states. Back in the car, we entered the last portion of our road trip. Now instead of green grass with the promise of spring, there were ski resorts and plenty of melting snow. Finally! Our destination of Mesa Verde National Park was in front of us.
Having completed a little research we were prepared for a scaled back tour of this park due to road closures as a result of unplowed roads during the winter and early spring months. We accepted this in light of the fact that this could be our only visit to the vast park as there were many sights to see on this 10 day adventure into the desert southwest. As has become typical of our visits to national parks, we attempt to take in as much as possible and usually end up racing the setting sun to catch one more glimpse and gain one more new experiences. Mesa Verde proved to be no different. The first objective as we enter a national park is to take our picture next to the entrance sign. Before we knew it we were paying our entrance fee and never saw an entrance sign. After inquiring about this, the gentleman told us we passed it already. That means we’ll have to stop on our way back out. On to the visitor center for more information.
Hiking trails, scenic routes to drive, and ranger programs are all reduced this time of year but so are the number of visitors allowing for easier and quicker drives as well as more personal ranger programs. I was eager to see a cliff dwelling as I had only heard of them before but didn’t have much information about them. To imagine people building their homes in the side of a cliff was intriguing. The only dwelling structure available to experience up close was Spruce Tree House. The first piece of information we looked for in the visitor center was the time and meeting location of the ranger program to this dwelling. Once gaining that information we explored the exhibits in the Chapin Mesa Museum until the time arrived for our ranger program. It’s a short distance from the museum to Spruce Tree House which involves walking down into a valley and back up a short distance to the well preserved cliff dwelling.