Mesa Verde

At Trail Canyon Ranch the nearest National Park is Mesa Verde. The usual way to get into it is from the north and that is pretty spectacular.

The way into Mesa Verde from Cortez

The way into Mesa Verde from Cortez and the north.

But this is rather misleading as Mesa Verde is not about isolated peaks but the high plateau and its deep canyons.

Mesa Verde from the west

Mesa Verde from the west

It is not bounded by faults but has been uplifted and what we see is what is left by erosion. The Mesa dips shallowly to the south and the characteristic canyons run from the north to the south. The Mesa is up to 2,000 feet above the surrounding plains.

Getting into the park is now an easy drive – long slopes, wide curves, a tunnel and steepish grades – but it was not always so. At one lookout I met a man who said he was the son of the man who was responsible for the park roads. In the mid 1950’s he and his father were in the last car to use the original entrance road (or rather track). Their job was to place the explosives which destroyed the road and remove any incentive to use the dangerous path.

The route of the original entrance into the park

The route of the original entrance into the park

He told me that rockfalls and landslips were a constant danger and a glance at the photo above suggests that he was correct!

It is a long drive to the park headquarters and there are several lookouts giving views of mountain ranges of which one has heard nothing, but which, in the UK or Europe would be hailed as great tourist attractions. My note taking is not what it should be so the mountains below have no name in this blog.

Distant mountains, viewed from Mesa Verde NP

Distant mountains, viewed from Mesa Verde NP

They may be the San Juan Mountains, but then again they may not.

When you get to the park headquarters you can sign up for various tours of the cliff dwellings for which Mesa Verde is famous. There is much to see, just driving around, but to get into the cliff dwellings you need a ranger to unlock the gates and to tell you the story.

The first one we went to was Cliff Castle.

Cliff Castle, as seen from the Car Park viewing platform

Cliff Castle, as seen from the Car Park viewing platform

Impressive but you need your tour ticket to get any closer.

A closer view of Cliff House

A closer view of Cliff House

An even closer look at Cliff House

An even closer look at Cliff House

Round tower at Cliff House

Round tower at Cliff House

Square tower at Cliff House

Square tower at Cliff House, kiva in the foreground

There is remarkably little known about these places. My previous postings about Bandelier and Hovenweep hold for here also. The place was abandoned after hundreds of years of occupation and the people moved elsewhere in the area.

Cliff House from the far end, two kivas in the foreground

Cliff House from the far end, two kivas in the foreground

A kiva at Cliff House

A kiva at Cliff House

We then went to Balcony House, which is just across the Mesa from Cliff House but facing into a different canyon.

From the edge of the canyon it is almost impossible to see Balcony House, although it must be very evident from across the canyon.

Looking across the canyon from above Balcony House

Looking across the canyon from above Balcony House

You have to descend the cliff face.

The way down to Balcony House

The way down to Balcony House

On the way you see a water seep, associated with a thin, impermeable, band of coal. This was probably the reason why Balcony House is where it is – a reliable source for a little water.

Our Ranger shows us the water seep

Our Ranger shows us the water seep

After going down, you have to go up.

Our Ranger leads the way to Balcony House

Our Ranger leads the way to Balcony House

You then need to squeeze behind the first of the dwellings.

The last barrier to get into Balcony House

The last barrier to get into Balcony House

Then you find out why it is called Balcony House.

On the balcony at Balcony House

On the balcony at Balcony House

Balcony House is smaller than Cliff House.

Inside Balcony House

Inside Balcony House

Another part of Balcony House, with kiva in the foreground

Another part of Balcony House, with kiva in the foreground

Besides the difficulties of getting in and out of the dwellings, life must have been, in our eyes, unpleasant in the cliff dwellings. Water was scarce and difficult to get into the place. There are no toilet facilities. It is presumed that all waste, including the human sort, was thrown over the edge. Indeed the excavation of middens half way down a cliff is one of the delights of the archaeologist. I think I am glad that the smells have not survived.

Getting out of Balcony House is almost as exciting as getting into it. First there is a little tunnel.

Balcony House - the exit

Balcony House - the exit

And then another ladder. The Anasazi must have been agile people. The place was not built with modern ideas of accessibility in mind.

Mesa Verde is well worth visiting – good geology, good views, good ruins and good mysteries – why did people live there and why did they leave?

We left that to the experts and headed for the Grand Canyon, via the San Juan Goosenecks and Monument Valley – the subject of the next post.

END

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