After a couple of years living on the plains of Oklahoma (where the wind truly does come sweeping down the plain), our fall vacation to the mountains of southwestern Colorado in 1979 was unquestionably a change of landscape.
Continuing our Tuesday Tour of this area, today my old 35mm film photos of another attraction we visited during that trip so long ago tell the story. Reaching back over 40 years in my memory bank in order to recall details of this trip, these old pictures came to my aid. My photography skills weren’t all that great back then, but the photos do jog my remembrances.
After our day trip on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (click here if you missed that post), we ventured out on another day trip from our little one-bedroom log cabin in the San Juan Mountains to Mesa Verde.
Plummeting caverns like we’d not seen before (this was four decades before we’d viewed the Grand Canyon) and vast views that enable visitors, on a clear day, to see four states located in this “four corners region” – Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah – proved to be a landscape of a different kind.
Amazing and intriguing sights can be found in Mesa Verde National Park, consisting of archaeological sites that were once inhabited by ancestral Pueblo people. They built their communities not just on the mesas there but within the overhanging cliffs. Hundreds of these cliff dwellings are some of the best-preserved archeological areas in North America.
For some reason after living on top of the mesas for centuries, the Puebloans moved their community dwellings cliffside, ranging from one-room to villages with numerous rooms.
According to park information, these ancient people farmed on top of the mesas, but lived in the alcoves of the canyons for almost 100 years. Eventually, they moved into what is now New Mexico and Arizona and by the year 1300, Mesa Verde was no longer inhabited by the ancestral Pueblo people.
It was mind-boggling to view the almost unbelievable structures tucked into the side of steep cliffs from a distance as we drove around the park via winding roads, but when we actually hiked down to view them up-close, we marveled at these ancient people’s ingenuity and adeptness.
Because the altitude is rather high at Mesa Verde and it was a scorching hot day, I endured a wicked headache while we visited so we didn’t explore as much as we could have. Since I wasn’t feeling well, we chose to forgo visiting Balcony House which is only accessible by climbing a 32-foot ladder and then crawling through a tunnel. A pounding headache, slight nausea, and no remedy available caused me to nix that idea.
But we did hike down the pathway to view Cliff Palace, which is the largest and most famous of the cliff dwellings, containing over 150 rooms as well as kivas, which were rooms used for religious rituals.
Another area of Mesa Verde is Wetherill Mesa where Long House is located. This area was excavated in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Today you can only visit it by ranger-guided tours. Of course, in the over 40 years since we visited, much has been added to the park including a visitor center, where sightseers can purchase tour tickets.
Even though my memory of visiting Mesa Verde is hampered by not forgetting a touch of “altitude sickness,” I’ve never forgotten the sights we viewed in that very different terrain from any we’d seen before. I’m glad I still have those old photographs to catalog that unusual landscape.
“We are a landscape of all we have seen.” ~ Isamu Noguchi