Our first day of a two-week residency at Mesa Verde was a whirlwind of adventure! First of all our guest hogan is completely charming, decorated in a 1930’s pueblo style and offering all the comforts of home. A $200-a-night lodge could not be more welcoming and cozy. Driving in late Sunday night, after an 8-hour trip, we enjoyed a good night’s sleep.
Up early, we were thrilled to be greeted by deer, coyote, and turkeys. After checking in to get our backcountry passes and clearance with my good griend Frank Cope, we headed out to get our first glimpse of a cliff dwelling. We picked up a ranger-guided tour at Cliff Palace which is an enormous complex of stone-work tucked underneath an even more enormous rock overhang. It’s easy to see why the Ancestral Puebloans found the spot appealing based on protection and views. However it is staggering to imagine the work it must have taken to build this place stone by stone.
Our first look was from high above and we had a chance to take it all in and do a few sketches before dropping down a narrow winding trail into the dwelling. People with bad knees beware! We soon discovered that most of the cliff dwellings were built between 1200 and 1280 AD. Although the Ancestral Puebloans lived and held ceremonies in the structures, much of their time was spent up on the mesa tops where they farmed corn, beans and squash. As we exited the dwellings we had to climb another narrow stone trail and finish by scaling a tall, but sturdy ladder to the surface.
Anxious to see more, we took a guided tour of balcony house. Nellie opted out of this one when she heard we had to enter via a 32 foot ladder and crawl through a narrow 12 foot tunnel. She enjoyed reading in the beautiful weather above, while our small, but congenial group explored the cliff dwelling interior. Once again the view was staggering, as we tried to figure out how in the world they ever climbed up the stone face in the first place. Much archaelogical work has been done on the larger sites, but there are over 600 known cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park.
Later in the day we explored Spruce Tree House, and drove the Mesa Top Loop where we could see countless other cliff dwellings and storage rooms tucked precariously into the cliff face. I had my sketchbook out and worked feverishly to capture a few quick views of each location. Rain is predicted for the rest of the week, so we wanted to get in as much as we could today.