Mesa Verde, CO 2011


East of Cortez on U.S. 160, the escarpment of the Mesa Verde rises like the prow of a huge ship where the road into the park snakes upward from the east edge of the Montezuma Valley. Mesa Verde National Park makes up a relatively small portion of the northeast corner of the mesa. Becky (my wife) and I visited Mesa Verde National Park in October of 2011.

The Four Corners Region Map

The mesa covered by pinyon-juniper woodland is a magnificent place to visit any time of the year. The weather is mild and the accommodations excellent. Within the park nearly 3,900 sites have been located, including over 600 cliff dwellings. The Mesa Verde mesas and cliffs were occupied by the Anasazi (Ancient Pueblos) for at least 700 years, from about 600 – 1300 AD, when the entire area was abandoned and they migrated southeastward to the Rio Grande Valley.

Mesa Verde National Park Map

Spruce Tree House across from the museum at Mesa Verde National Park contains 114 rooms and 8 kivas, (pictured below).

Becky is posing at the Mesa Verde National Park Museum’s porch, just west of “The Spruce Tree House”, across the ravine during 2011.

Picture above, Spruce Tree House” village, occupied between 1200 and 1300 AD, is the best preserved of all Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings, with three-story walls extending to the cave roof, many intact roofs and balconies, and painted plaster covering many wall surfaces.

I’m posing in front of the northern end of “Spruce Tree House” at Mesa Verde in October.

While walking down to the “Spruce Tree House” Ruins, Becky and I, discerned individual workmanship of different stone masons from wall to wall. Pictured below, the Anasazi (Ancient Pueblo) often sun dried their vegetables. Many food items were stone-ground, using grinding stones [metate and mano]. Seeds were parched in hot coals and ground into meal. Pine nuts were ground into a paste.

3 metates and manos found in the “Spruce Tree House” at Mesa Verde.

Spruce Tree house formed the core of a community of fourteen sites holding 150 to 200 people packed into this canyon head next to a strong spring. Pictured below is a short distance to the north in the head of Spruce Tree Canyon, where the strongest known spring in the Mesa Verde is located. Notice the dam to hold back the water.

The “Spruce Tree House Canyon Spring” at Mesa Verde.

Pictured below, the rooms at the north end of “Spruce Tree house reached to the very top of the overhang. Here the Anasazi constructed a stone masonry column support for a horizontal log upon which the topmost room wall was built.

North Courtyard of Spruce Tree House form by the roofs over 2 underground kivas.

Pictured below, the “Sun Temple” was constructed with two concentric D-shaped, rubble-cored walls divided into compartments which enclosed a pair of kivas. on the west side of the D-shaped structure is an extension with a third kiva, other compartments, and a circular building that probably was the base of a tower.

Inside the Sun Temple on the mesa between Fewkes and Cliff Canyon in Mesa Verde National Park.

Sun Temple was constructed almost entirely of pecked stones forming the interior and exterior linings of the temple. the kivas were probably roofed and built aboveground, since it would have been impossible to build subterranean kivas into the bedrock below. Courtyard space surrounded the kivas within the D-shaped structure.

Plan view of the “Sun Temple” at Mesa Verde N.P.

The main part of the building is D-shaped, and consists of a windowless double wall enclosing two circular tower-like rooms, in a very symmetrical manner. The West “annex” of the building contains many small rectangular rooms as well as two small circular rooms. Built on the mesa top at the confluence of Cliff and Fewkes Canyon, the Sun Temple stands at the heart of the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, and was probably meant to serve as a ceremonial center for the surrounding population. If so, it would represent the largest ceremonial structure ever built by the Anasazi. Based on the quantity of rubble removed during excavation, it is estimated that the walls of the Sun Temple stood 4 to 5 m high.

Sun Shrine found on the southwest corner of the “Sun Temple” in Mesa Verde N.P

Pictured above, there is an eroded stone basin with small indentations at the southwest corner of Sun Temple, next to the wall. This feature may have served as a sun dial to mark the change of seasons.

Sun Shrine found on the southwest corner of the “Sun Temple” in Mesa Verde N.P

However, it is found that there are two astronomical alignments that are within one degree of the declination of the rise of Pleiades and rise of Vega in 1250 AD, respectively. It is interesting to note that the star-shaped eroded basin in the Sun Shrine, with its eroded cupules in the center, may have been seen to represent the approximate appearance of Pleiades, and thus the “Sun Shrine” may instead have actually been a shrine related to the Pleiades.

The “Cliff Palace” at the Mesa Verde National Park.

Pictured above, Cliff Palace is the largest of the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. It contains some 220 rooms and 23 kivas and during teh thirteenth century housed probably 250-350 people. Toward the center of the ruin is a round tower that tapers inward as it rises, and to the south are two square towers. The 6 kivas that front Cliff Palace are supported by retaining walls.

One of the Kivas in the “Cliff Palace” at the Mesa Verde NP

Even though no two of Cliff palace’s twenty-three kivas are exactly alike, they all follow a generalized pattern: circular in plan, generally dug beneath courtyard level so their roofs would form part of the courtyard, central fireplace, ventilator tunnel on the south side, a raised air deflector, and usually six masonry pilasters rising above an encircling banquette to support a cribbed log roof. {Example pictured above}

Looking north at the “Cliff Palace” at the Mesa Verde NP

Pictured above, north end of Cliff Palace show the best-preserved buildings in the large cliff dwelling. Excavators labeled the tallest building “speaker chief tower,” suggesting that the village sun watcher announced his findings from there. However, a possible Sun-watching station has been identified at the South end of Cliff Palace. From this location the southwestern horizon is featureless, except for the Sun Temple standing some 300 meters away on the mesa top across Cliff Canyon. At winter solstice, seen from the observing station the setting Sun touches the horizon between the Sun Temple’s two main towers. It has also been suggested that the smallest tower in the Temple’s West end might have served as an horizon marker to anticipate the winter solstice by some 20 days.

Pictographs found in the Cliff Palace of Mesa Verde NP

Painted interior walls on the third floor of a four-story building in Cliff Palace, (pictured above). The upper portion of the wall has been painted white, the lower portion red, with red triangles extending upward as if representing mountains on the horizon. Rows of red dots run between the triangles. Both rectangular patterns painted in red on the white upper walls resemble textile patterns. Fancy decorations!

The “New Fire House” ruin at the Mesa Verde NP

Pictured above, The “New Fire House” in Fewkes Canyon contains the remnants of 23 rooms and 3 kivas on two separate ledges. A set of small steps or toeholds lead onto the upper ledge between 2 sets of buildings. A ladder resting on the wall between the 2 left kivas led to those steps.

The “Spuare Tower House” Ruins at Mesa Verde N.P.

Pictured above, Square Tower House lies beneath a high shallow overhang in an alcove in the west wall of Chapin Mesa below Twin Trees. It had 7 kin kivas and more than 70 rooms. Several rooms were perched high in a cliff crack above and to the right of the cliff dwelling. Excavators called this the “crow’s nest”. The nearest trail to the mesa top led out of the right side of the shelter along the base of the cliff and through a narrow crack behind a large boulder leaning against the cliff. {This is where I took the picture}.

The Balcony House Ruin at Mesa Verde N.P.

Pictured above, Balcony House is tucked beneath the cliff on the east side of Chapin Mesa overlooking Soda Canyon. Of all the cliff swellings on the Mesa Verde, this one displays the most defensive setting. After climbing up a steep toehold trail and traversing a narrow ledge, Becky and I had to crawl through 2 low tunnels behind the leaning boulder at teh extreme left, (pictured below), then enter the ruin at the left end of the cave.

1 or 2 persons could adequately defend this entrance into the Balcony House Ruin at the Mesa Verde N.P.

Residents of Balcony House could get water from one spring in the cave behind the two-story building toward the left or from a second spring under the base of the cliff at the extreme right. A disproportionate ratio of 45 rooms to 2 kin kivas is balanced by the other 11 cliff sites in the Balcony house village along the adjacent cliffs.

Balcony House at Mesa Verde N.P.

Pictured above, the perfectly preserved balcony for which Balcony House was named. Inhabitants of the 2 second-floor rooms would emerge onto the balcony through the rectangular doorways, then climb down ladders to the courtyard below.

A good look at the construction of the balcony at Balcony House

Pictured above, the balcony construction of poles covered with twigs or split juniper shakes set at right angles, the bark, and finally mud typifies roof construction employed by all the Ancient Pueblos.

Long House Ruin on Wetherill Mesa, the second largest cliff dwelling on the Mesa Verde National Park.

Pictured above, some 150-200 people occupied its more than 150 rooms and 21 kin group kivas. The name derives from the long extent of this ruin around the full arc of this magnificent overhang. In the front center of the cave, are the remains of the rare rectangular great kiva.

I’m posing in the northwest edge of the “Long House Ruin” in Mesa Verde National Park, October of 2011.

Pictured above, upper ledge rooms on the left of the cave were primarily for storage and were reached by ladder from the roofs of rooms below. A single long crude wall riddled with peek holes encloses space on the high ledge above the center of the ruin also.

Far View House on top of Chapin Mesa in the Mesa Verde N.P.

Pictured above, Far View House with about 50 rooms and 5 kivas was built on a terrace formed by a low stone retaining wall. Several rooms stood 3 stories tall, and several walls show rubble-core and veneer construction. 4 kivas are surrounded by rooms while the 5th lies outside the room block. The large central kiva has 8 pilasters and oblong floor vaults.

Mummy Lake on Chapin Mesa in the Mesa Verde N.P.

Pictured above, Mummy Lake stored water, (up to 500,000 gallons), for occupants of the Far View community. It was originally built around 900 AD and added to at least twice. Water was led into the stone-lined reservoir through an intake channel at the southwest corner where a 180 degree turn caused sediment to settle where it could be readily dredged out. A flight of steps in the south wall allowed access for water carriers.

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