Part 2: Mesa Verde National Park
Of all of the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) sites, Mesa Verde National Park is the largest, most dazzling, and affords the greatest access of all. The contrast between Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon is like night and day. Chaco Canyon is quiet, mystical, and uncrowded. Mesa Verde is bustling, noisy, and glamorous. But, it is SO worth the visit. There is nothing as beautiful as seeing the magnificent Chaco-style architecture showcased in a majestic sandstone alcove nestled in the side of a daunting canyon. And at Mesa Verde, you can see the “palaces” from many different angles, experience them with a ranger guided tour, or walk leisurely through them on a self-guided tour with a ranger always nearby for questions.
|Chapin Mesa Archeology Museum|
The next stop for me, and most visitors, is the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum 22 miles from the visitor center and deep in the heart of the many beautiful ruins. If you can only spend one day in the park, this is your best course of action. Learn about the remarkable people that lived on the mesa and in the canyon alcoves 800 years ago by touring the great exhibits and watching the park video in the museum.
[view video] For a spectacular view of Spruce Tree House, walk only a few steps from the Chapin
[view video] On the path to Spruce Tree House, you pass a spring that was used by its residents. The geology that creates this spring also created the alcove that the house was built in. The tan cliffs in the canyons are composed of sandstone which is very porous. Rain, snow melt and running water seep through the sandstone down to the layer of shale underneath where it emerges as a spring. Often in winter the water collects in cracks in the sandstone, freezes and breaks off chunks until the alcove is formed.
[view video] Manos sitting on mutates in a small room prompt me to imagine what life was like in these great houses. Most daily chores were done outside on the plazas in the summer and moved inside in the winter.
The mud plaster coating still clings to some of the walls that were three or four stories high in some areas. Many rooms were used to store corn, squash, and beans harvested on the mesas above. Some doors were “T”-shaped making them handy for carrying armloads into the rooms. The soot on the walls and ceilings suggest that fires were used inside many of the rooms and some say burned constantly in the rear areas. Remnants of porches and balconies remain. There were about 114 rooms here and the average size was 6x8x5 ½ feet. The average height of a male resident was around 5 feet 4 inches.
There were eight kivas used by kinship groups for ceremonial and communal activities. A lot of what we know about the kivas comes from descendants of these Ancestral Pueblo people living today and still using kivas. Unlike the living rooms, kivas were well-designed for using fire and well-ventilated.
Stone Pilasters supported log beams that held up the roof using cribbed construction. A large pit in the center of the floor contained the fire. Fresh air was drawn in through the ventilator shaft and dispersed by a stone deflector shield. The small hole in the floor behind the firepit is a “Sipapu” which represents the opening through which man emerged onto the face of the earth.
[view video] Another bonus is a sample of how the walls may have been decorated still preserved in the fading plaster. This design was painted on the wall 800 years ago.
Spruce Tree House is a great introduction to the beautiful Cliff Dwellings in Mesa Verde.