Seldom has a place touched me so deeply like Mesa Verde. The drive along the winding road leads you higher and higher onto the top of a plateau in Colorado. Mesa Verde means “green table” and one can imagine how green it must have been up here. Nowadays the brush and woods still show the traces of an immense fire that raged through the area years ago.
President Theodore Roosevelt established the Mesa Verde National Park in June 1906 to “preserve the works of man,” as he named it. It was the first national park of its kind.
The cliff dwellings were built by the Ancestral Puebloans who inhabited Mesa Verde for more than 700 years (550 A.D. to 1300 A.D.). Currently Mesa Verde has over 4,700 archaeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings. But despite knowing that ahead of the trip nothing prepared me for that first view down from the top of the plateau towards the Cliff Palace. I just stood there with a speechless “wow” written all over my face. Immediately visitors are thrown back in time, hundreds of years.
The moment you see the Cliff Palace from above the walkways you almost feel the ancient spirits of the Anasazi who occupied the area and in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away around 1300 AD. Nobody knows why. Did they hunt down all their food sources, was lack of water the reason, crop failure or enemies? Nobody knows the answer.
The cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde are some of the best preserved ruins in North American and contain sights from one-room storage units to villages of more than 150 rooms.
The biggest sight is the so called Cliff Palace with 22 round shaped Kivas which were used as ceremonial rooms. The Cliff Palace held up to 150 rooms. It is an easy accessibly sight. Rangers lead the tours and walkways are well kept.
The Balcony House demands climbing through a small but short tunnel and the only way out back to the top is via a big ladder of at least 32 feet length. The size of the tunnel can be measured and checked out at the visitor center. All tours are more or less one way. Mesa Verde Balcony House has 40 rooms. Today, the tunnel, passageways, and modern 32-foot entrance ladder make Balcony House the most adventurous cliff dwelling tour in the park. One can even step into a tower or test a Mathabi grinding stone. Balcony House can be explored by ranger-guided tour only. Tickets for the tours are purchased at the visitor center. One can´t miss it. There are also lodging possibilities on top of the Mesa.
The Spruce Tree House
Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution opened Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House for visitation following excavation in 1908. Due to the protection of the overhanging cliff, Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House had deteriorated very little through the years and has required little supportive maintenance.
Spruce Tree House, the third largest cliff dwelling, was constructed between A.D. 1211 and 1278 by the Anasazi and has about 130 rooms and 8 kivas. Spruce Tree House is built into a natural alcove measuring 216 feet width and 89 feet at its greatest depth. Scientist estimate around 60 to 80 inhabitants must have lived there. The cliff dwelling was first discovered in 1888, when two local ranchers came across it while searching for stray cattle. A large tree, a Douglas Spruce, grew from the front of the dwelling to the mesa top. Legend says that the men first entered the dwelling by climbing down this tree. Later the tree was cut down by other explorers.
So when you walk the Mesa Verde Cliff ruins do it with respect for the masters who built the rooms and Kivas. Be aware that you take a tour of 700 years of human history. The Ancient, who used 78 Million years old sandstone to create a home for people who averagely died between 30-35 years of age and who lost 50% of their children below the age of 5 years old. The Anasazi are one of the biggest secretes in the Southwest American history.
It is enchanting and touching to walk their grounds. Do it with the highest respect the ancestors deserve and they will gift you with an unforgettable experience. I have been there three times so far.