Mesa Verde National Park


Fourteen hundred years ago the Anasazi Indians came to Mesa Verde to farm and to live.   Ananazi, a Navajo word meaning ancient foreigner …but it is thought today that they were descendants of the Pueblo Indian family.   They lived and thrived in Mesa Verde for seven hundred years, where they built extensive housing complexes made of sandstone blocks in the alcoves that lined the canyon walls.   It is believed that they first built houses on top of the mesa before they built and lived in the alcoves on the cliff walls.   . 

These houses, called cliff dwellings, benefited from the natural design of the canyon walls and the overhanging cliffs.   Inside they used sandstone blocks and mud to make the walls, floors and roofs to construct multi-level structures.   Several families lived within the buildings which had rooms for gathering or ceremonial functions, for sleeping and for cooking.   

They farmed on the mesa at the top of the cliffs and they would use steps cut into the cliff walls or rudimentary ladders to reach their cliff dwellings.  They would carry down their crops for storage in their buildings and from what we might believe; -- they seemed to have lived full lives in these dwellings.

Palace House Dwelling

They were very good builders as many of the structures remain intact and the walls stand straight and are still in good condition.   But they did not leave much in the way of writings or artifacts that would tell the full story of their expectations, their lives or their culture.   But as experienced and knowledgeable builders we learn a great deal about their creative side and their ability to survive in what must have been a difficult period.  

Many of the dwellings are open to the public and some can be visited with a park ranger as guide.   The Spruce House, for example, can be seen from across the canyon and a close-up visit would show that were about 130 rooms and eight kivas (…. the gathering or ceremonial rooms).   The ceilings of many rooms are blackened from fires inside that were used for warmth in the winters and for cooking all year long.  

Family life was very strong with all members involved in growing and sowing their agricultural crops.  Some making pottery and clothing and others hunted and they saved all that they could for the grueling winter.  What ever they did not want or need was just thrown off the cliff to the floor of canyon below.  

Spruce Tree House (right), Palace House (l. right) and Oak Tree House (below)

       To visit Mesa Verde requires driving up to the top of the mesa where you can tour the Visitor Center and purchase tickets to see Cliff Palace and/or Balcony House, each of which includes a ranger escorted tour.  They are strenuous trips that require climbing up ladders as long as thirty-two feet, climbing stairs up 60 feet along the canyon face and/or crawling through a one and one-half foot wide tunnel.  

There are two loop roads on top of the mesa that you can drive to reach Cliff Palace and Balcony House, six housing sites that are built on the top of the mesa as well as Spruce Tree House, a cliff dwelling you can hike to on your own.   There is also a restaurant and a lodge located within the park.   However, for us, the lodge was not open, as it was too early in the main tourist season.

      Square Tower House (above) and Lila on the trail to Spruce Tree House (right)

Mesa Top Kiva (above)