Wonders of the Western Slope: Mesa Verde
Preserving the works of man
Mesa Verde National Park is one of the oldest national parks in the country and according to Interpretive Ranger Sean Duffy, “The first and still only national park in the nation that preserves the works of man.”
Nestled in Colorado's southwest corner, Mesa Verde is famous for its archeological sites and cliff-dwellings. I met with Duffy and he detailed the history of the park and its original inhabitants, collectively known as the Pueblos.
“When you look at the entire Four Corners area, they are talking forty to fifty thousand Pueblo people. That’s a lot more people living here back then than are living in Dolores and Montezuma Counties today," Duffy explains.
When agriculture became the way of life, the Pueblos began to establish settlements.
“For the seven hundred years that the Pueblos thrived here in Mesa Verde, most of their homes were built up on the mesa tops, right next to their fields. And only out of the last five and six generations of Pueblo families that lived here, some of their homes were built down here on the cliffs and ledges below.”
The Pueblos eventually left the area, but their history was discovered a few centuries later.
“Word got out pretty quickly in the 1800s that minerals were found in the San Juan Mountains. So, all these mining towns started being established.”
Ranchers also moved into the area and found themselves chasing lost cattle up into the canyons.
“That’s when they started seeing these larger cliff dwellings. A lot of smaller sites were found in the area for quite some time, but no one bumped into anything quite this big. They started leading curiosity-seekers, professional military people, scientists into the area to excavate, look at these sites, photograph them.”
As more and more people came, site became damaged and artifacts started to disappear.
“There was a push in the American continent at the time that we need to protect our history as well as European history. So, more and more people got together and petitioned congress and the government and organizations about the idea of setting these areas aside and protecting them from the public.”
Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906, forever protecting the area and its rich archeological treasures.
Ranger Duffy showed me around Spruce Tree House, leading me down into one of its reconstructed kivas, a circular room built into the ground with a roof overhead.
“The Hopi Indians today still build kivas for prayer and for meditation and for religious ceremonies. But, guess what? It’s the easiest room to heat and keep cool. And so Pueblo people spent a lot of quality time in their kivas," Duffy said.
“We’ve discovered that sometimes people just sleeping down here generate enough heat to make this room completely comfortable. Imagine what you’d save just putting your home or your business eight feet into the earth for cooling and heating. It’s ancient Pueblo technology!”
Spruce Tree House, considered one of the best-preserved sites in the Southwest is the only cliff dwelling open for tours in the wintertime, but there are still plenty of other activities going on.
“There’s one loop road that’s open: the Mesa Top loop, which you can visit some mesa top sites and then there’s also some dwellings which you can see from overlooks including Cliff Palace,” explained Andy Blake, a law enforcement ranger at the park.
“And then what we just started recently, about three years ago, was grooming cross country ski trails. When everything’s open, about thirty miles of trails in the park,” Blake continued.
Snow shoeing is also very popular on the trails.
Visiting during the winter can also help you avoid the crowds of the summer months.
“It’s a world destination and it’s something unique and people come from around the world to see and it’s got a lot to offer. Not just the historic sites, but also just the scenery here is pretty neat,” Blake said.
“America is older than two hundred and the evidence is all around us that Pueblo societies have been thriving here for centuries. And just the scenery alone is worth the trip to see the beautiful canyons and the Piñon-Juniper forest and especially the wildflowers in the springtime,” added Duffy.
You won't find a more extensive collection of cliff dwellings and other archaeological sites anywhere in North America and that easily makes Mesa Verde one of the Wonders of the Western Slope.
Mesa Verde National Park is located about ten miles east of Cortez or 35 miles west of Durango along US Highway 160. It is open daily, year-round, though some facilities are closed in the winter.
For more information on the park, visit its website here: http://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htm
Copyright 2012 KJCT. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The following are comments from our users. Opinions expressed are neither created nor endorsed by KJCT, its web master or its television station management. These comments are moderated by the community. To report an offensive or otherwise inappropriate comment, click the "Flag" link that appears beneath that comment. Comments that are flagged will alert our editorial staff.