A Visit to Mesa Verde

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.

 
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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.

mesaverdec2007.jpgThe 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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.  

mesaverdeh2007.jpgAnd 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. 

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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!

12 thoughts on “A Visit to Mesa Verde

  1. Thanks for reminding us about this wonderful park. Beautiful photographs. Imagine being the farmers who were hunting for their cattle and came across those ruins. We went with our family in the 80s and this is a good reminder that we need to get out those boxes of slides and get busy scanning.

  2. I’ve never been to Mesa Verde, although I’ve seen pueblo ruins at Bandelier National Monument in N.M. and Montezuma Castle National Monument near the Grand Canyon. Mesa Verde looks like the granddaddy of them all. I’d love to see it one day and try the scary ladder—yikes!
    Thanks for your contribution, Meredith. Great pics. I really enjoyed it!

  3. Meredith, I enjoyed the tour with you! We visited MV in 1999. The boys were 1 year old, so we didn’t go “down there” and “up the ladder”. Now, I know what we missed. You are brave, I am not sure I’d want to do the ladder – the picture took my breath away!

  4. wow! That is totally amazing!! To think people lived like that so deep in the mountains. What fascinating history to explore. And, like you, I’d be all white knuckled too on that climb! Looks scary!

  5. Great pictures, Meredith.
    We’ve been there a couple times. I went when I was a kid. Dug those pics out, and the ones of our trip in the late 70s with our kids. I remembered the ladders, but your picture brought back the memories of actually climbing them.
    Thanks for sharing.

  6. I hadn’t thought about Mesa Verde in a long time, but I’ve been wanting to go. I’ve read it has great rock climbing. Easy to believe looking at that ladder. Half these national park posts seem to be about places where I want to go rock climbing.

  7. Inspiring, indeed! I could never, never do the ladders. I am terrified of height, even looking at the pictures makes me shiver.
    I would like to go there, just not go over the side. I do admire you for taking the boys. Boys love that kind of stuff. I was not nearly such a scairdy cat when my boys were at home. They keep you brave.
    I am enjoying your blog. We also had an ‘experience’ with a hackberry tree. It just changes the whole world when they are gone!

  8. That looks incredible. I love love love mixing road trips with history. While Canada has plenty of natural beauty, there is nothing quite like the ancient dwellings that the US has preserved. Thanks for the awesome photos.

  9. Pingback: Bloggers’ Celebration of Our National Parks: A wrap-up | Digging

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