Friday, August 13, 2010

Mesa Verde

The word Mesa is Spanish for table.  Verde is the color green.  The green table they are talking about is the ridges or mountain tops between canyons in this park.  As I understand it, originally the Indian peoples lived on the tops of these mountains.  But eventually they dropped down over the sides of the canyon walls and built homes on the cliffs below.

Usually facing South, the folks built their homes in alcoves along the cliffs taking advantage of the shade from the overhead cliffs in the summer.  But in winter, the sun was lower in the South, and brought sunshine directly into their homes and kept them warmer than the snow covered tops of the mountains.  All of this took place between 600 and 1200 AD.

The peoples living here were Ute, and Navajo and many other tribes of Indians, all before Europeans came to the North American Continent.  I am not qualified to explain much about this history and would encourage you to study further on other web sites for accurate content.  But with that understanding we toured a bit of Mesa Verde today.

From the entrance gate 8 miles East of Cortez, Colorado on highway 160, you go past the ranger station where those of us over 62 show our golden age pass. If you are pulling your RV, you must drop it in the parking area before you come in.  They do have camping about 2 miles in, and in that case you can take it to the campground.  I did see motorhomes farther into the park, but one our size would be a real pain in the patutee in all the parking areas and tight cornered roads.

It was 15 miles to the visitors center from the gate, and it was up steep mountain roads with hairpin curves.  They had guard rails in most places when it was straight down.  And the views are exceptional.  You are several thousand feet above the surrounding valleys and can see for miles.

At the visitors center you decide what tours you are going to take, and pay $3 each for the guided tours over the sides of the cliffs.  They are mostly listed as Strenuous, and we opted for the free stuff as we are not capable of strenuous anything.  So with map in hand we proceeded to the  Chapin Mesa Museum. 

Chapin Mesa is the main mountain ridge that the dwellings are located on.  Across from the Museum is the Spruce Tree House.  Access to this is free and not overly strenuous.  We toured the Museum and watched the 25 minute film about the park and its inhabitants so many years ago.

Spruce Tree House



From there we headed out to the Mesa Top Loop, and drove ever so slowly stopping to see most of the attractions.

The Canyon in the distance

The original Indians lived in Kivas or pits in the ground with wooden structures over them as roofs.  P1000387

This one was more elaborate with tunnels and fire pits with storage for food grains.  The park service has built a metal roof structure over it to preserve it from nature.

Next was the Square Tower House.  I walked about a 1/4 mile away from the cliff in order to look back.  I have seen this photo in many publications.  Never realizing I would someday take it myself.

I am not going to try to describe all the pictures I took, as it is beyond the scope of this blog, but I will show them and encourage you to click on the ones you want to see better.

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These last three are of the Sun Temple and the Canyon that it overlooks. 


This last picture is of the famous Cliff Palace.  If you look, there is a tour group descending into the ruins.  They have taken a stairway down from the top above them.  It descends in a crevice to the right of the picture along shear canyon walls. You would want to look right at the steps, as vertigo would be really easy to have.  I have no idea how many steps it is from the parking lot, but many of the folks were older.

We drove over to the Cliff Palace loop, and from above you can’t see a thing except the canyon.  There are big parking lots and benches to assemble the tours.

On the far side of this loop is the Balcony House  This is listed as the most strenuous, and even taking a picture from above required a 2 mile hike round trip.  I passed as the afternoon heat was in the 80s by now.


This picture was taken from the National Park Service Web Site, even though the live writer put my watermark on it.  I have no idea how folks were descending to it in the tour group.  There appear to be folks in the picture and usually they have to climb the Indian style ladder pictured to the right.  They were listed as thirty feet or more tall.

We did the fairly quick 6 hour tour, just getting acquainted with the main ruins and where they are located within the park.  Should you want to go on the tours, you need to get to the main Visitor’s center well before noon, in order to get on a tour that same day.  We were there about 11, and they were selling ticket for the 4PM tours.

There is another mountain ridge or mesa to explore to the West called Wetheral Mesa.  It includes the Step House and the Long House.  It also has a tram ride to various other ruins deemed too far to hike to.  We will have to do this another time.

As a parting thought, one of the ladies next to me made and interesting comment about the folks touring the Cliff Palace as she was attempting to take a telephoto of the site.

“I wish all those people would go away, they are ruining my picture of the ruins.”

Retired Rod


  1. Your last line of your blog is spoken as a true photographer! I hear that all the time!

    Lots of lovely photos today.

  2. Thanks for the tour with the great photos, Rod. It reminds me a bit of the visit I made to the Hovenweep Ruins last year although this place looks quite a bit more interesting.

  3. I just got the name of your blog from a friend, and it looks very interesting, so will read as much of your previous posts as I can. I just started a blog on blogspot, but have been writing on mytripjournal for over 2 years. I added your blog to my blog list, if you would rather I didn't, please let me know. Love your pictures. Pidge

  4. I had to laugh at the last paragraph, when I think of all the video's I have of people walking in front of the camera and just not noticing you are taping something, I never cared after all people are what makes the world, but I have seen other photographer's really hot under the collar, good thing life is short, and now that I am retired I can sit and wait for the perfect picture if it ever comes, Just continue to have too much fun out there. Be safe also. Sam & Donna.

  5. Isn't it amazing that people that long ago could construct these types of structures? There was every bit as much talent and know-how and sophistication in the Americas as there was anywhere else in the world. Thanks for such interesting pictures and commentary.

  6. Thank you for sharing your spectacular photos. I really enjoyed this! - Mary Ann


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