Thursday, September 5, 2013

Great Sites: Weatherill Mesa

Mesa Verde National Park

Weatherill Mesa is remote and, therefore much less visited than the rest of the sites at Mesa Verde National Park.  But it is a real treasure to visit. 
Long House at Weatherill Mesa
Mesa Verde National Park
There are three main attractions, 1) the Ranger guided tour of Long House, 2) the Loop facilitated by the tram, and 3) the hike to the Step House site.

The Ranger guided tour of Long House is a must.  This site was unique for a cliff dwelling because of its large open-air plaza fashioned after a large kiva and the natural seep spring.  
The tour begins with a short ride on the tram to a covered area with picnic tables.  You follow the Ranger down a steep switch-back trail to the site.
At first, Long House doesn’t look like much, but you soon learn that there are a lot of very interesting and unique features.
A ladder takes you up into the upper level where the Ranger points out an area where they ground their stone axes on the sandstone.
There are also imprints of corn cobs in the plaster—maybe made by kids playing because further down are hand prints on the walls made by small children. 
Some commented that it reminded them of a day-care facility.

Up in this balcony area you see one of the features that I find fascinating—a seep spring.  Rain and snow melt seeps through the porous sandstone that makes up the alcove.  When it hits the slate layer, it seeps out into the alcove providing a natural source for water right in the dwelling.

Looking down on the plaza you can see another fascinating and unique feature of Long House—the open-air plaza.  It looks like a grand kiva with the walls and roof missing.  Here is a partial transcript of Ranger Sam's eloquent description of how the plaza was used. [video of presentation]
"For 700 years  after the Ancestral Puebloans left Long House, this is all [there was to] Long House [peaceful and quiet].

"But back in the day, when the Ancestral Puebloans lived here, this place would have been alive with the sound of people, with the sound of the community—songs, dancing, singing, laughter, especially this place where we are standing right now.  We call this place, this courtyard, the Great Plaza  or the Great Kiva.

"I like to imagine that over this [rectangular rock-lined] opening here and this [rectangular rock-lined] opening here,  they have stretched skins of deer skins or elk hides. And this is a drum, and they are beating drums and making music.  

"And over here [this big square pit] is a fire pit and they have a big fire going and they are singing and dancing around that communal life force, the fire.

"Over here [behind the fire pit] we have another interesting little hole in the ground and this is what is called a Sipapu, and “sipapu” means place of immergence.   And this little hole, or square I should say, represents where these people believe that their Mother, the Earth, had given birth to them up to the surface to meet their father, the sky, and this Sipapu is where they believed their spirit would go back into the earth when they died.

"And over here we have more drums.  There are people laughing, singing and dancing.   This place is alive with the sounds of the community.  And what is so great about this story is that although that sound, that laughter, that talking may not be here in Long House today, it is still going on.  So what happened to these people, where did the Ancestral Puebloans go?

"Well they were dry land farmers, right?  So they depended upon the rain for water for their crops.  So, what happens when it stops raining?  Their crops failed and you can’t eat.  And that’s what happened to these people in 1280, a drought struck this region that lasted almost 30 years.  They couldn’t eat and they couldn’t make do, so they had to put art and architecture aside and renew."

[They abandoned the cliffs and moved south to start over.]
After the Long House tour, you can catch the tram for a Loop trail around the mesa.  The Loop was fun.  There are nicely preserved pithouses protected by metal buildings.  The tram lets you out at the paved trail-head and then picks you up at the end of the trail.  There are some parts of the tram ride where the driver waits for you to look at cliff dwellings from the rim.

Then there is the hike to Step House.  Unfortunately, we got rained out of our hike to this unique site.  I really wanted to see this site because there is a reconstructed pithouse, a large concentration of rock art, and the ruins of two separate occupations side-by-side. 
I will be going back to Mesa Verde National Park and you should visit it, too.  This is archaeology at its most elegant and beautiful.  It is probably the last site of the Ancestral Pueblo Culture, the culture that was part of the Chaco Phenomenon that lasted for over 500 years.  It was a culture that rose to great heights in art, architecture, government, and social life.  There is every reason to believe that the people were happy, healthy, and prosperous.  It was a good life with little signs of war or conflict.  Their's was a culture to be admired, studied and learned from.
by Courtney Miller
My book, The First Raven Mocker, has just been released. 
See what the Cherokee were like in mythological times.
Check it out at:

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