Day 7: Road Trip in the Time of Covid
Mesa Verde National Park
Decided to skip sunrise today since I’ll be in the park two nights. I had a delicious sleep in to all of 8:00 AM. I type that sarcastically since I am usually an extremely late sleeper. On the other hand, the reason I sleep so late is because I usually stay up so late - so I guess my 10:00 PM bedtime still allowed me a solid 10 hours of sleep. I really like my sleep. *shrug*
My plan today was to stop at all the viewpoints a motorcoach is too big to stop at and hike as many trails as possible. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized that half of the park was closed because there are not enough employees due to Covid. The main part of the park is two seperate mesa tops which contain all the most accessible Native American archeological sites. One of the reasons I was excited about coming here was I had never been to the second mesa top (Wetherill Mesa) since it is much more difficult to access. Plus, that mesa contains the only cliff dwelling which you can enter without a guided tour. And, as you can guess, they aren’t conducting guided tours of any of the park’s other sites right now. *sigh*
The other day, I realized that I’m not providing much historical information in my blog. Frankly, I know all the info, so it didn’t occur to me to write it down; but then I realized that the handful of acquaintances who are reading this blog might get bored with my rambling about shower searches and sunrise/set video escapades. So, I’ve decided to add a bit more of the types of info I would relay to my guests on a typical trip. (I’ll keep it short and sweet so as not to bore you.)
Mesa Verde Historical Info:
Mesa Verde is a large mesa in southwestern Colorado which was home to generations of Native American tribes known as the Anasazi or Ancient Puebloan People. Verde is “green” in Spanish and Mesa Verde is topped with a luscious landscape of green trees - hence the name. The 50,000 acre mesa towers 2000 feet over the valley below. The safety of elevation and the flat, fertile soil on top made it a perfect place for Native Americans to thrive in scattered farming communities. In addition to cultivating corn, beans and squash, the inhabitants hunted deer, wild turkey, and rabbits.
Archeologists have found evidence of tribes living on the mesa as far back as 550 AD. Initially, they lived in “pit houses,” dug into the earth and covered with wood and dirt. They then started building adobe brick houses and eventually, by around 1200 AD, they had advanced to building the cliff dwellings the park is so well known for. By 1300, the mesa top was abandoned and it is believed a major drought in the area prompted the tribes to move further south into modern day New Mexico and Arizona. The tribes left no written record, so archeological interpretation is an evolving process.
So, back to hiking… My first hike was the Farming Terrace loop near Cedar Tree Tower. The natives were very skilled at water conservation and built a system of irrigation and crop terraces to direct the flow of rainwater and snow melt. A few of the stone terraces are still in place, today.
The Cedar Tree Tower is one of many story towers possibly built as a look out or a meeting place or both.
Farview is a large community of adobe structures built as a town center of sorts for the surrounding smaller farm communities.
By this time, I was getting peckish, so I stopped by my favorite picnic spot: Spruce Tree House. It is a cliff dwelling which you used to be able to explore on your own, but a couple years ago there was a rock fall and the park has been trying to figure out a way to structurally prevent future rock falls before they will allow visitors, again.
But, the place does have a wonderful view point and a ranger station with a back patio to have a picnic. This is my normal relaxation spot when my guests are exploring the awesome CCC era museum next door (of course the museum wasn’t open). I sat there for about an hour, enjoying the shade while I snacked and wrote.
After lunch, I hiked the Petroglyph Trail which departed right below my picnic spot. It was a moderate hike with lots of fun, narrow passageways, a small cliff dwelling, and a section of petroglyphs. Since the inhabitants left no written language, the petroglyph meanings are up for interpretation. Like many Native American rock art panels in the Southwest, there are images of local animals, human figures, swirling symbols, and hand prints. The original high-five, I’m assuming. *wink*
The rest of the afternoon was spent driving around Chapin Mesa and stopping at each site. The afternoon was perfect - sunny with a few clouds and a pleasant 80 degrees. Since I had gotten a great sunset video the night before, I didn’t bother taking another one - I just pulled up to the Farview Lodge parking lot, popped the hatchback and watched the clouds dance across the landscape. I even saw a few frolicking deer while I ate my soup and salad dinner.