Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado was the home to ancestral Puebloan Indian people who lived there from AD 600 to 1300.

The park has 600 preserved cliff dwellings, 5,000 architectural sites, a museum, a brand new visitors center and a lot of hiking trails. And more. It's the largest archaeological preserve in the United States.

After the Indians left Mesa Verde, the cliff dwelling sat silent. In 1776 the ruins were mentioned in a journal of Spanish explorers Domingues and Escalante, who were seeking a way from Santa Fe to California; they thought the dwellings looked similar to ones being used further south. But a local pioneer family named Wetherell is credited with "discovering" the dwellings in 1888 (probably because they were told about them by an Indian friend). People began to take baskets, pottery and other items from the pueblo but the American Antiquities Act -- signed by Teddy Roosevelt in1906 -- made that illegal.  That same year, Roosevelt made Mesa Verde a national park. 

We went to the visitors center, did several short hikes (including one that took us to a fire lookout at the highest point in Mesa Verde -- 8,572 feet); hiked the 2.4 mile Petroglyph Point Trail, visited the Spruce Tree House (the best preserved cliff dwelling in the park), and watched the movie a the museum.  We haven't taken many hikes since we got the kayaks, so it was a great day.
Mesa Verde National Park is just eight miles from Cortez, Colorado -- where we saw this sign at a smoke shop apparently tired of people asking for legal Colorado wacky tobaccy. 
Mesa Verde's new visitors center opened a year ago.  That's Colorado's La Plata Mountains reflected in the windows.
Mesa Verde is prone to lightning and in the summer can receive up to 100 lightning strikes in an hour, said a display at the Visitors' Center.  Major fires burned over half of the park between 1998 and 2003.
Close to Mesa Verde's Museum, we saw a gopher snake that appeared to be headed for the road...

...a park ranger picked up the snake, posed for a few photos, and then took it to the other side of the asphalt.  Rangers at the park were great -- one of them asked us if we'd "found everything we needed" like we were at the grocery store check out -- except she really meant it.
Jim after walking through a crevice in the sandstone at Mesa Verde's Petroglyph Point Trail.  The loop trail was 2.4 miles but took us about two hours because some careful foot placement was needed here and there. Plus, we kept reading info in the 36-stop trail guide book.
Bev about to go down some steps on the Petroglyh Point Trail.
Ancient Puebloans had no metal tools, so they made axe heads out of hard stones.   They sharpened the harder stones on sandstone and these grooves are the result.
The largest group of petroglyphs (above Bev's head) on thePetroglyph Trail.  
After our Petroglyph  Trail hike, we went to the Spruce Tree House, where ancestral Puebloan people lived about 1200 AD to 1280 A.D.
Closer up view of Spruce Tree House dwellings where as may as 90 people lived at a time.  The dark soot at the top was deposited centuries ago by small fires used for light, cooking and warmth. 


  1. Did you replace your camera, Bev? These photos are gorgeous! Thanks for a peek at this neat place.

    1. Hi you two. Just saw this comment. Same old camera (although when I got back to SLC I bought a new point and shoot to use in the kayak) but better luck, maybe. Hope all is well.