Friday, 7 January 2011

The American West Part 11: Mesa Verde NP, Colorado

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1300. The park is famous for its 600 cliff dwellings.

A steep narrow winding road climbs up onto the plateau from Highway 160 in the Mancho Valley.

Once on top of the plateau the views across the Mancho Valley are very wide ranging.

It’s about 45 minutes before you see the first cliff dwellings tucked into caves and crevices in the cliff walls forming the canyon.

Many of the ruins are in or overlooking Cliff Canyon.
Mesa Verde people grew crops and hunted game on the mesa tops. The soil was fertile and except during drought, was well watered. The vegetation has changed little but there are fewer trees now.  The people cut pinyon and juniper for building materials and firewood. They reached their fields using hand and toe holds cut into the cliff face.  This is Oak Tree House, Cliff Canyon.
Cliff Palace is a larger complex . Understanding of these Ancestral Puebloans and their lives is very sketchy and archaeology seems to bring up more questions than answers.
Why such a vigorous and sophisticated civilization came to an end in the 1200's or exactly why the people moved away to settle elsewhere is still a mystery.

Spruce Tree House was one of the largest villages in Mesa Verde. It had 129 rooms and 8 kivas (enclosed ceremonial pits). About 60 to 90 people lived here at any one time.
Not all remains are to be found in the cliff face. Some sit on the top of the mesa.

Modern Pueblo Indians assure us that the Sun Temple's features mean it is a ceremonial structure. Household goods nor roof beams were found pointing to the possibility that the building was never finished.

A large well organised labour force was needed for its construction. The stones in the fine masonry walls were shaped and given a "dimpled" flat surface and were probably between 11 and 14 feet high. The thick walls were double coursed and filled with a rubble core.