Every summer Bill and I take a summer vacation somewhere out of state. In 2010 we went on an Alaskan Cruise, in 2011 we went on a road trip through California, Nevada, and Utah , and in 2012 we went to Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Arches National Park, and Canyonlands National Park. This year we decided to just "do Colorado." We did some planning ahead for this trip but for the most part we just picked a few places and decided to go for it.
We began in Mesa Verde National Park ("A" on the map). Mesa Verde is the the largest archaeological preserve in the U.S. It is the site of a bunch of really amazing cliff dwellings that were built around 1200 A.D.
In elementary school, most Arizonans learned that the people who created the cliff dwellings in the four corners area were called the Anasazi, but that name has since been changed to the Ancestral Puebloans. The name Anasazi means "Ancient Enemy" and was the name given to the makers of the cliff dwellings by the Navajo who have historically had conflict Ancestral Puebloans' descendants, the Hopi.
One of the coolest things about Mesa Verde is that you actually get to go in to the cliff dwellings and see them up close. It amazes me that they let people do that, even if you are being watched by rangers. You have to reserve a tour time and pay $3 for each dwelling, but that's still really cool.
Bill and I heading to the visitors center to get our tour tickets. He found that his tripod holder on his backpack made a handy water bottle holder.
The first dwelling we went to was called Spruce Tree House. It's the best preserved dwelling at Mesa Verde and is 95% original. To get there, we had to hike down into a canyon in the sun. Where I live in Mesa, the elevation is 1,243 ft. At Spruce Tree house, the elevation was around 7,000 ft. Not only was is it harder to breathe at that elevation, but the heat of the sun is far more intense. I spent the entire time in Colorado getting used to this!
Spruce Tree House in the 1890s. This is before the debris was removed and some of the walls were reinforced.
The large circular structures with ladders sticking out of them are kivas that have been reconstructed by the National Park Service.
I think it's really interesting that these dwellings have stone floors and not dirt floors. Most other cliff dwellings I've seen have packed dirt floors.
According to the trail guide, these places where the wood beams are sticking out were actually balconies originally.
Bill looking at some of his shots.
Ladies and gentlemen, I got Bill Collins to smile for a picture!! It's only taken me four years!
All of the rest of the kivas look like this. They all lost their roofs over time due to weathering.
Many of the roofs are covered in soot from burning fires inside the building to keep warm.
It's really interesting to be able to see the back half of the cave. According to the trail guide, much of the back area of the cave was used as a refuse dump.
Another kiva. The pillars in a kiva represent the six directions (North, South, East, West, up, and down), and held up the wooden roof. The large hole in the middle is a fire pit. The small hole in the middle is the sipapu, and represents the hole where man came out of the earth. Kivas were used for religious ceremonies as well as family gathering places.
You may be asking yourself (these are the kind of questions I often ask myself) how could they know these things based off of archaeological evidence? I believe much of the information about kivas comes from the modern day descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans, the Hopi.
A close up view of a kiva. The Hole in the wall is an air shaft that helped bring in fresh air. The standing slab or rock helped to protect the fire and distribute the air evenly around the kiva.
Many things were numbered like this. I'm not sure what that's about.
This style of doorway is called a keyhole doorway. I find these very interesting.
I climbed down in to the kiva that the National Park Service had restored. It was a little difficult because people kept trying to climb up the ladder while others were trying to come down and vice versa.
Bill got a shot of me climbing out of the kiva.
Every nook and cranny had mini storage areas built into it to store food for the winter.
Bill wishing there weren't a bunch of people all over the dwellings so he could take a clear picture.
A close up shot.
After the Spruce Tree house, we walked back up the trail to drive to our first tour.
I thought this branch was cool.
Balcony house was our first tour. This is the view from above. Cliff dwellings can be very difficult to photograph. They are often in a shadow. Cameras can either take a well-exposed picture of the shadowed area or the non-shadowed area, but not both. This picture (and most of my cliff-dwelling pictures that had any sun in them) required Photoshop manipulation to look the way it did in real life. Here is the original below:
More food storage areas along the canyon walls.
Going on a tour of balcony house required climbing down some stairs from the top of the mesa down to a point below the cliff, then climbing up ladders to visit the cliff dwellings.
The ladder was double-sized and could accommodate two people climbing next to each other at the same time.
We also had to climb through a long, narrow tunnel once we reached the dwelling. Bill was not a fan of this.
Remember the balconies I mentioned earlier? This is what they look like when they're still intact. They are how the Balcony House received its name.
Bill photographing the balcony.
This dwelling was quite high up on the canyon wall and had a 3-foot-high wall along the entire edge of the patio area. The guide said one of the theories about this dwelling was that it was actually used as a nursery.
I couldn't go through this whole post without a dead tree...
This was our tour guide, Ranger Sam.
These footholds in the rock were originally there when explorers found it. They have however, been enlargened to fit the modern shoe. After he finished talking, we used these footholds to walk up to the hole in the middle of the picture and go to the other side of the dwelling.
Some cool designs carved into the perimeter wall.
The back of the cave.
All the wood beams are original. Pretty cool.
The really long beam again. It stuck out about 5 or 6 feet. I wonder what it was used for?
A room with a fire pit.
The tour group waiting to squeeze through another tunnel.
Nothing to make you feel tiny like crawling in a tiny slot between two enormous slabs of rock.
After climbing back up to the top of the mesa, Bill and I drove to our tour at Cliff Palace.
A smaller dwelling that I could see from the lookout point.
Cliff Palace as seen from above.
Our tour guide picked us up at the lookout point and we climbed down some more stairs. Once we came around the corner, we could see this:
All of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde were interrelated and they believe that Cliff Palace was the capital. It is certainly beautiful, so I could believe it.
More storage. This time, in a crevice above the buildings.
The really cool part about this particular dwelling is that some of the buildings are round and look like something that could be in a medieval castle. According to the Hopi, the round buildings represent the feminine, while the square buildings represent the masculine.
This particular dwelling was very tall and had many levels. It really felt like more of a city. It has about 150 rooms and it is estimated that it originally housed about 100 people.
I love the way that some of the buildings were built into giant slabs of sandstone.
This round tower was my favorite. So cool. (The ladder isn't original.)
More storage areas on the other side of the canyon.
Our tour guide for Cliff Palace.
That's my shadow.
The view of Cliff Palace from the opposite side.
After climbing out (more ladders lol), Bill and I got some shots from above:
Since we were staying at the Far View Lodge in the park (I would recommend it by the way), we decided to explore and see if we could find any interesting photography shots.
Much of Mesa Verde park has burned in various lightning fires. We found an area that had burned a while ago that had some beautiful flowers.
I've photographed these in the desert near my house.
Bill getting the perfect shot.
I had to end with this tree.
Check back for Day 2: The Million Dollar Highway!