Located in Southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park preserves and showcases approximately 600 cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans, built around 1200 AD. In recognition of its archaeological relevance, it attained UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1978.
In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt established Mesa Verde National Park to “preserve the works of man,” the first national park of its kind, containing over known 5,000 archeological sites including its famous cliff dwellings, ranging in size from 1-room storage units to villages of more than 150 rooms.
We hiked to Spruce Tree House, the best preserved and third-largest of the cliff dwellings, which includes about 130 rooms and 8 kivas [ceremonial chambers] and is believed to have once housed 60-90 people.
The Ancestral Puebloans were skilled builders, constructing rooms that fit 2-3 people into villages that, to my mind at least, look like precursors to contemporary townhouse condo developments:
The walls were created out of sandstone shaped into rectangular blocks, each about the size of a loaf of bread. The mortar between the blocks was a mixture of mud and water:
The window openings were reinforced with longer stones and feature what resemble our window sills:
This is a kiva, or underground ceremonial chamber, which may have been used for healing rites and to pray for rain, luck in hunting, or a good crop.
The large hole in the floor is the fire pit, while the small hole, or sipapu, is the symbolic entrance to the underworld.
Your humble tour guide exiting a kiva [honey badger don’t care]:
Stone tools made from stream cobblestones:
This is Spruce Tree House seen from afar, tucked into a natural alcove beneath a cliff overhang [for a comparison, check out this illustration of what the village might have looked like when inhabited]. Incredibly, the Ancestral Puebloan people occupied these elaborate dwellings for less than 100 years before migrating out of the area:
Hiking further out, we encountered narrow stairs and passages:
Much of what we encountered on the Great American Road Trip made my jaw drop. So, to continue in the vein of exposing my ignorance, I really had no idea that these kinds of structures exist in North America. I guess I thought that all of the native people were nomads, so to see their sophisticated buildings and get a glimpse into the rich domestic lives they led was truly eye-opening to me.