Posts Tagged With: middens


Aptly named Cliff Palace, this cliff dwelling is the largest in the United States and is the one most often seen in magazines and tourist brochures about ancient ruins.

It is the only major cliff dwelling in the park that can be seen from an overlook.  I was disappointed in my pictures of the Weatherhill Long House, but here you can see the dwellings from a distance and get an  idea of what the whole settlement looks like in two photos.

The tour starts on the left and moves off to the right.

A tighter shot also taken from the overlook. Notice the tower in this photo and a comparison of what the site looked like when it was first photographed by a  Swedish Scholar, Gustaf Nordenskiold, in 1891. He was the first to scientifically study the site though it was officially “discovered” by Weatherhill,  local ranchers and curiosity seekers knew of its existence.

Quite a difference. Much debris from many years of neglect, but hey, the 1100’s was a long time ago. From the overlook,  our group proceeded down into the canyon.

Jim is moving a bit slowly. He was in pain this morning from overdoing a things a bit yesterday, despite the meds.

Then up this small ladder and you are at the beginning of the tour.

Because the ancient Anasazi (the preferred word is now Puebloans)  seemed to have abruptly vanished, Bill Slaughter, our guide,  posed  some  questions to think about as we viewed the site:   Who are the ancient Puebloans?  Where did they go? What made them leave?

There is much scientific study about the ancient Puebloans.  They speculate that because there are so many kivas at this site, those who decided to leave their nomadic way of life as hunters and gatherers and build cliff dwellings, supported a greater community of Puebloans in the surrounding Mesa Verde area. I believe he said the palace has 11 kivas.  From local Native Americans who still use kivas for political and ritual uses, scientists speculate that the same was true of the ancients.

Other kivas we’ve seen could only be entered by a ladder through the roof. This advance in building skills allows the person to walk into the kiva through a “keyhole” entrance.

A three-story “apartment” house, and other buildings on site are so straight, scientists speculate they may have used a plumb bob to align their  buildings.  Small rocks with a hole drilled through them were found on site that could have served that purpose.

A crevice above the dwellings was used to store corn and beans to keep it from rodents and birds and weather.

The Puebloans built round as well as square buildings with great skill. Sandstone is a good, long-lasting building material when not subject to harsh storms. They could hand chisel rocks to fit. It had to be  a major decision to give up their nomadic lifestyle and hunker into the cliff sides and build such protected houses. Most likely, for some protection from conflicts. There were probably 30 to 50 thousand Puebloans in the area.  And while there is no sign of conflicts in the cliff dwellings,  conflicts arouse over a diminishing source of food and game and other resources like wood in the greater area below the mesa in what is now Cortez and surrounding areas.

Examinations of bodies show a people somewhat protein deficient.  All of the big animal bones were gone from the upper layers of the middens, no deer, elk or sheep bones. The Puebloans were living on small game, like rabbits and turkeys.

The cliff location provided protection and water. They dry farmed and depended on winter snow melt and summer rains to grow their corn. A 23 year drought may have driven them to take up their nomadic lifestyle once again.  They didn’t just disappear,they moved.

There is plenty of evidence linking the ancients to the local Ute and Hopi tribes.  This is their ancestral lands. Even some DNA evidence.

The climb out of the canyon is steep and about 180 feet up.

I thoroughly enjoyed the rock climbing aspects of squeezing through tight spots and between gigantic boulders, but Jim was getting a workout he didn’t need at that point.

We, at least, had steps and handrails. The ancients made it up the cliffs barefoot. Their hand and toe holds could be seen carved into the rock at this spot.


The final three ladders are bolted into the cliff.  If you go, the rangers give you excellent information about how strenuous each tour is. I didn’t find this a strenuous trip, despite the altitude of 7,500 feet. It is possible to do two tours, or even the three major dwellings in one day. The most challenging is Balcony House.  Since Jim was in no shape to attempt a second tour we skipped it, but I told him he’d have to drag me back here to take it another year.

There is much more to do here if you can hike two to five miles.  And there are longer hikes to see hidden dwellings and petroglyphs described by yesterday’s, guide, Pam Slaughter, as “very beautiful.”  The museum is excellent. Don’t miss the 25 minute film.  We drove the loop and looked at views of lesser dwellings on the way back to camp.  Then we enjoyed watching the deer eat while we enjoyed our own supper.

I always take way to many photos, but if you’d like to see my album, click on the link:

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Mesa Verde means green table. And, for desert, this high mountain place is green.  The drive  Mesa Verde National Park at  7,500 feet was a challenging pull. The drive to the various ancient dwellings on a twisty hilly road provides you beautiful views of the valley below.

It takes 45 minutes to drive the 25 miles to the Long House. We stood in line to get tickets for our guided tour.  The tickets are only $3, affordable and young children can climb the ladders. No water or food in the canyon. When  you go, read all the rules before you start.

A panoramic view of this ancient  cluster of dwellings, set into a stone mountain suggests to me why it is called the Long House since it sits in a long crevice in the stone. ( Click on pictures to make them larger.)

The tour starts here, with these two ladders. They are easy to climb. The guide allows 90 minutes for the tour from start to finish. Plenty of time to look around and rest if you need to.

The first building we looked into was quite intact.  The Puebloan People crawled into their dwellings through a small door. Windows were often smaller than this one, and gave very little light.

This is what it looks like inside. Jim teased a little girl on the tram ride back and asked her if she would like to live here if they would install a television set.  Of course,  she said no. The climate gets very cold and very hot here.  Archeologists believe the ancient ones  spent as little time inside as possible. Mostly to store goods, sleep and cook in winter months. 

Looking down into one of the dwellings shows a fire pit with a deflector in front of it.  The chimney that brought in fresh air is behind the deflector, so not to blow embers or smoke around. Smoke went up through a hole in the roof.  It is amazing to think these people lived her around 568 BC.  Archeologists  know the dwellings were continually occupied for 200 years. Then abandoned and then lived in a second time.

No one knows how many people lived in this cluster of dwellings, but their middens show they hunted elk and the bones in the midden got smaller and smaller as the years passed, suggesting they had over hunted and game became scarce.  Knowledge had to be passed down to younger generations, and the average lifespan was 32 years for men and 36 for women. They were good architects; survivors; capable of eking out a living in a sparse environment.

Building here was no easy task, picking the stones, carrying them in, making the mud. This rock shelf had a small spring at the back wall that now grows moss and mosquitoes. Life giving to the Puebloans.

In the floor were grinding holes next to the water visible as a thin layer on the right.

And on the  floor, a moccasin footprint .


It is easy to romanticize and imagine the congenial families, children cavorting, enjoying story telling around a fire at night, women weaving, looking out over the beautiful canyon. But, the lifespan, the sparse living, suggest more work than play.

We hiked back up to our tram and got off at the Pit Houses. These ancient dwellings are covered for protection and precede the cliff dwellings.

This community of ancient peoples dug homes into the ground. We visited four covered sites  within easy walking distance of each other.

A large Kiva, where ceremonies and religious rituals  were held suggest a large community.  A drawing of what these dwellings looked like with a roof over is at one of the sites.

Why did they dig homes to live underground?  Why did they cease their formerly nomadic life style to live in “permanent” dwellings? One pit house had evidence of a fenced enclosure around it. Was it for protection?  To hold livestock, like turkeys?  No one knows. Archeologists suggest the planting of corn, changed their lives from nomads to farmers. They used practically every plant in the canyon for food and medicine.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how they lived and imagining being set down in this hostile climate and  being able to survive. For us, not possible.



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