Mesa Verde National Park Cliff dwellings

Nestled within the Mesa Verde plateau in south-west Colorado at an altitude of more than 2,600 m are a great concentration of spectacular Pueblo Indian dwellings, including some the most amazing cliff dwellings.  Mesa Verde, Spanish, meaning “Green Table”.

Ever since local cowboys first reported the cliff dwellings in the 1880s, archeologists have sought to understand these people’s lives. But despite decades of excavation, analysis, classification, and comparison, scientific knowledge remains sketchy. We will never know the whole story: they left no written records and much that was important in their lives has perished. Yet for all their silence, these structures speak with a certain eloquence. They tell of a people adept at building, artistic in their crafts, and skillful at making a living from a difficult land.  Noone really knows the reason why they built into the cliff face.  Maybe it was because of an unknown threat, rival tribes, or maybe it was to escape the heat of the day and bitter cold at night.   During rains the water would cascade down the cliff faces where it would be collected and stored.  There are also rooms set aside as storage of food,



After a short walk down a sketchy path, you climb an old wooden ladder resembling something the Ancestral Puebloan people would have used centuries ago, you come across the start of what you know will become a treasured experience, if not a step back in time.


At this point the guide informs everyone that they must not place their hands anywhere except the railings, as the acid from your skin (yes apparently theres acid on your skin) will transfer onto the stone, and given the amount of visitors Mesa Verde has, the acid will eventually change the rock, smoothing it and eventually wearing it out.

Soo you fins yourself crawling through a small tunnel into a dark room.  Its cool, quiet and  eventually opens up into a village.  Everyones quiet, no doubt in awe at what they’re seeing.  You can’t help but think “How the hell did they do this ?”.


The guide takes us to these deep circular pit room.  Known as a “Kiva”.  A Kiva a Hopi word for “ceremonial room”,  is a large ceremonial chamber that was probably used for rituals of healing, praying for rain, health crops etc, or maybe used as a gathering place to weave.

Pilasters supported a beam and mud roof.   The entry was on a ladder through the centre of the roof and there is a small hole on the floor known as a “Sipapu” a symbolic entrance to the underworld.


 The constructions were well though through, obviously having survived the riggers of weather and time, but looking at the above image, they incorporated a deflector in from to the fire to allow the fires heat to more evenly saturate the Kiva, and also to prevent the draft from the vent from pulling at it.
I walked around, remembering not to tough anything (might have been better to have worn gloves), and snapping photos for an even longer lasting memory, trying to go back to when this place would have been a busy, populated town.  People would have been busily going about their chores in order to survive the barren lands which existed several hundred feet above.
Coming to the end of the tour, the only way out gave me goosebumps.  The seemingly easy path came to a ladder that appeared to be about 80 feet high.  At this point my attention came to the camera bag an water bottle I was carrying.  How the hell was I going to do this.
I could hear people giving support to those that were struggling with their own mind over matter issues, and hoped I wouldn’t need too be one.  (This photo was taken 3/4 of the way up).  It was my turn and up I went, pausing near the top to take a quick snap.  But the reality that this wasn’t all I had to do to reach the top quickly  became apparent.  There were steps cut into the cliff face and for protection against obvious death is you fell, a small, wire and chain fence.
Reaching the top, the only thing that came to mind was “I’ve survived Mesa Verde”.
The whole experience captivates you from beginning to end.
Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwestern Colorado midway between Cortez and Mancos off US 160. From the highway to the park headquarters is 21 scenic miles and about a 45 minute drive.  Make sure you visit the Visitor Centre as it  features exhibits that focus on the contemporary American Indian cultures in the Four Corners area and ties in with the cliff dwellings and the people that lived there some 700 years ago.

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