Over Memorial Day weekend Heather and I headed to Southwest Colorado to visit Mesa Verde National Park. Ever since I saw my very first photo of Mesa Verde I knew I had to go there, and to push us to plan a trip sooner rather than later, I included it on my 101 Goals in 1001 Days list.
The trip was fabulous and included three days of camping, cooking over a campfire and eating s’mores, and visiting some of the most incredible sites I’ve seen yet in the United States. Ancient history has always fascinated me, which is probably why I’ve always loved European history–thousands of years of history beyond what exists in the US.
However, moving further west has brought about a whole new appreciation for Native American history and it was fascinating to learn about the lives of the Ancient Puebloans who inhabited Southwest Colorado as early as 500 AD.
The park opened its new visitor’s center the first day we were there and celebrated by hosting a Native American Arts Festival. Here, New Mexican American Indians shared some of their traditional dances and songs with the visitors.
We went on the three ranger-led tours to various cliff dwellings around the park. Up first was Long House with a very enthusiastic ranger. This hour and a half tour didn’t disappoint and was a great way to start our tour of Ancient Puebloan history. Even though the Ancient Puebloans had been in southwest Colorado since 500 A.D, they didn’t move into the cliffs until the 1200’s. By 1300, they were all gone.
Climbing ladders was common on all of the cliff dwelling sites.
It was pretty amazing to discover that in the midst of the dry mesas, fresh water seeped into the caves to be used as a water source. The top part of cliffs are made of pourous sandstone, which allows water to trickle down inside the rocks. Eventually, the rock turns to non-pourous limestone and since the water has nowhere else to go, it seeps out inside the caves.
The holes created by the Ancient Puebloans to gather water from the seep springs.
A look down into a Kiva, a ceremonial space used by the Ancient Puebloans. Original structures had timber supported mud roofs that provided some flat working space above. Visitors to the Kivas climbed down a ladder through a hole in the roof. The fire pit is in the middle, with a ventalation shaft to the left. The wall of stone allowed the fresh air to feed the fire without blowing on it and making the room extra smoky. The small hole in the floor is called a sipapu, a reference t0 the Ancient Puebloan story of arrival in their fourth world from a world below.