A couple of years ago my boys and I went to Colorado with their grandparents, and we snuck out for a side-trip to beautiful Mesa Verde, a National Park in far southwestern Colorado, near the Four Corners. Mesa Verde is one of the most unique archeological sites in the world, for it was once the home of the Ancestral Puebloans who built hundreds of spectacular cliff dwellings along the mesa tops and within sheltered alcoves of the canyons. The Ancestral Puebloans lived there from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1300 and then mysteriously abandoned their homes at Mesa Verde.
Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde and in North America, and it is aptly named. Not only is it huge, with about 150 rooms, it was quite a trek down the cliff to reach it. There were many kivas, or ceremonial rooms, along with storage rooms.
The temperature was very comfortable, and it’s easy to understand why the Ancient Puebloans took shelter in the cliffs, out of the hot summer sun and cold winters.The doorways of the buildings were quite small. At 5’5″, I would have been as tall as the tallest man.
The Ancestral Puebloans were skilled masons, creating buildings of stone and wood that were sometimes two- or three-stories high. The wood is one of the ways the scientists dated the dwellings to about A.D. 1200.
Spruce Tree House was named for a spruce tree climbed on by explorers when they found the ancient site. The ladders led into reconstructed kivas.
Park visitors are allowed to go in the reconstructed kivas at Spruce Tree House, but I found out later that kivas are very sacred to the Pueblo Indians. I rather wish the park had closed off all the kivas out of respect to the Pueblo people. Our entering it was only because we didn’t know better and it’s part of the park tour. I’m showing this image simply because it’s one of my favorites of my son, poking his head out from darkness into the brightness above.
And then there is the Balcony House. This remarkable dwelling is only reached by climbing down stairs along a cliffside and then up a 32-foot ladder to get to the actual dwelling. Actually, it was one of three ladders we had to climb at Balcony House. If you think it sounds easy, then take a look at the picture below.
For those with a tendency toward acrophobia, climbing a tall ladder with what seems like only a small ledge keeping you from falling into the deep, deep canyon below definitely requires some incredible will and an ability to master one’s fears. I should add that we had waited out a thunderstorm with strong winds on the cliff above before the tour finally began, so I was already fairly alarmed that we were about to attempt such a climb with winds such as those blowing (it turns out the Balcony House was actually sheltered from the cliff winds). But because I was wanting my sons to enjoy something unique and spectacular without developing any of my awful fears, I kept my desire to panic very quiet and seriously practiced some breathing techniques to keep my calmness in check. But the ladder you see here will forever be known to me as the White-Knuckle Ladder. I actually don’t have a fear of heights per se — I love being up high – it’s just being at the edge of a cliff that gets me wobbly. And Mesa Verde is ALL cliffs, haha.
The trip will always be a memorable one for me — from the drive in to the drive out. For those with a strong fear of heights, it might not be the best park for you to visit. Even the 23-mile drive in was along the mountainside, with narrow turns and tight switchbacks, and while the views were incredible, I couldn’t take my eyes off the road to even glance at them. Add to it that I made the mistake of not getting gas in nearby Durango, and I was rather inwardly freaked out that we were going to run out of gas or fall off a cliff to the canyon far below. We did neither. Phew. But despite my racing heart, I’d go back there in a flash to visit again.
This glimpse back at my Mesa Verde trip was inspired by Pam at Digging who is hosting a bloggers’ tribute to national parks. Thanks for sending me on this trip down memory lane, Pam!