Showing posts with label Mesa Verde. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mesa Verde. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Mesa Verde :: Spruce Tree House

The third cliff dwelling that I visited while at Mesa Verde was Spruce Tree House, which does not require a ticket as it is a self-guided tour. Rangers are on-site at all times to answer questions and keep and eye on visitors.

It is the third largest of the cliff dwellings and contains about 130 rooms and 8 kivas (kee-vahs) built into a natural alcove 216 feet wide at its greatest width and 89 feet at its greatest depth. It is thought to have been home for about 60 to 80 people.

The black areas on the underside of the rock were caused by smoke from the fires they used to cook with and keep warm.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Mesa Verde :: Balcony House

After having first visited the Cliff Palace, the tour of Balcony House was as much about the ladders, passageways and tunnel that had to be traversed in getting there and back as it was in seeing the 40 rooms of the complex. The tour to Balcony House is touted as being the most adventurous of those offered at Mesa Verde and is definitely not for the faint of heart!

Getting down to the level of the Balcony House involved a series of metal stairways firmly attached to the sides of the cliff.

Then you had to go back up. To that level, up there.

The 32-foot entrance ladder. I got to go up first with the Ranger. I'll admit to being a little nervous. I kept repeating what she had told us: “Don't look down! Keep your eyes focused on the rock in front of you.”

This picture was taken from the second story of the Balcony House, looking down at the ladder and those who have yet to come up.

Upon leaving the dwelling we had to crawl through a 10-foot long tunnel, just barely wide enough for a large person (me) to get through. The Ancestral Puebloans were smaller people than we are today!

Once through the tunnel, it was awkward to get out and stand up again. There wasn't a lot of room to maneuver.

Oh, and then there were two more ladders to climb up. See that chain fencing? It's there for a reason.

Looking down from the base of the second (and final) ladder.

The Ancestral Puebloans wouldn't have had fancy ladders and chain fences to help them get up the cliff walls. How did they do it? The Ranger said they carved hand and foot holds out of the rock. I guess you get used to using what you have available, but I'm very glad we had the ladders and chains to help us along the way!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Mesa Verde :: Cliff Palace

It would probably seem to be a good bet that from Hovenweep I would go to visit the “cliff dwellers” at Mesa Verde National Park, located near Cortez, Colorado and about 50 miles east of Hovenweep. The park contains over 4,000 known archeological sites including cliff dwellings and the mesa top sites of pithouses, pueblos, masonry towers, and farming structures although many of them are not accessible to the everyday visitor.

The first stop was the campground. Even though I was assured by the Ranger at the entrance station that the campground never fills up, I wanted to make sure that I had a site for the night. After securing my site I drove the dozen or so miles winding up the mountain side to the visitors center. A ticket, for the nominal sum of three dollars, is required to tour the cliff dwellings. The number of visitors on each tour is limited as are the number of daily tours to each site. There were several slots available for the two dwelling sites that were open – Cliff Palace and Balcony House – and I obtained tickets for Cliff Palace that afternoon and Balcony House the next morning.

There are signs posted at the waiting area for the tours warning that “Visiting the cliff dwellings will involve strenuous hiking and climbing. If you have any health problems do not attempt.” Dire warnings, indeed. But the trail is only a quarter of a mile long. How difficult could it be?

A portion of the Cliff Palace seen from the top of the trail. A large part of the dwelling is off to the left and much of it is barely visible in the shadows.

Several of the towers are four stories high. Park literature states that “The cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde are some of the most notable and best preserved in the North American Continent. Sometime during the late 1190s, after primarily living on the mesa top for 600 years, many Ancestral Puebloans began living in pueblos they built beneath the overhanging cliffs. The structures ranged in size from one-room storage units to villages of more than 150 rooms. While still farming the mesa tops, they continued to reside in the alcoves, repairing, remodeling, and constructing new rooms for nearly a century. By the late 1270s, the population began migrating south into present-day New Mexico and Arizona. By 1300, the Ancestral Puebloan occupation of Mesa Verde ended.”

And, “Recent studies reveal that Cliff Palace contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas and had a population of approximately 100 people. Out of the nearly 600 cliff dwellings concentrated within the boundaries of the park, 75% contain only 1-5 rooms each, and many are single room storage units. If you visit Cliff Palace you will enter an exceptionally large dwelling which may have had special significance to the original occupants. It is thought that Cliff Palace was a social, administrative site with high ceremonial usage.”

It was fascinating. And the trail really wasn't so bad. A metal stairway leads to a series of uneven stone steps of varying heights. Then the path goes along the edge of the cliff making its way around to a 10-foot ladder going up to the next level. From there, you had to go back down a ways along a stone and dirt path finally reaching the area of the cliff dwellings.

The park Ranger preparing to climb the last of the ladders back to the top.

At first glimpse, and from a distance, the final ladder climb looks scary. This was taken from the trail waiting area before going on the tour. But, as you can see from the previous photo, the ladder hugs the wall and it was a relatively easy climb.