Mesa Verde National Park: Cliff Dwellings and the Anazasi
Mesa Verde National Park Overview
Mesa Verde National Park belongs to times so far past it predates our own history as an American People. Back beyond the Revolutionary War, beyond Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci, back before even what we regard as our own "American Indians," way, way back, almost to the dawn of prehistory.
This park is unique: it is the only one of our national parks founded around, and featuring the works of mankind instead of nature.
The area now known as Mesa Verde began to be inhabited somewhere around 400 B.C.E. by the ancestors of the ones we now call the cliff dwellers, while the cliff dwellings themselves date back to about the 13th century. So, before many of the now famous historical events and people of the world were even thought of, there was a people here for hundreds of years. And then, one day, they were gone. Gone before any 'outsider' knew they had been. Gone, where no man can follow, leaving only their magnificent dwellings behind, and a trail of enigmatic clues.
This is the place of the fabled cliff dwellers, and it is a place of no small mystery. To probe its secrets, to walk among its ruins, is to experience an almost mystical kinship with earlier times and simpler folk and their ways. One walks about almost in a daze, trying to comprehend what knowledge these simple people had: what oneness with nature.
We call them the "Anasazi." No one knows what these once proud people called themselves. Anasazi is a Navajo Indian word meaning simply, "the ancient ones." It is generally believed that these people, or what was left of them, migrated toward the southwest and into what is now New Mexico. According to Park Service information, the Pueblo Indians consider the area to be an ancestral home.
Map of Mesa Verde National Park
Spruce Tree House
These structures are on a par with the pyramid builders of ancient Egypt! How did they build these abodes minus any kind of modern tools? It would be a challenge even for us, today, for this is no place accessible to bulldozers and other such powerful machines to move rocks and earth.
Climb down the nice trail to Spruce Tree House. Once inside, look up; look to the sides; in your imagination, remove all evidence of the trail down which you have just walked.
Examine the sheer sides of the cliffs, the down-and-in-curving roof of the cave in which you stand. Try to see where the original denizens of the place may have gained entrance. It boggles the imagination.
Did they cling to the cliffsides, groping for meager hand and toe holds? Did they use ropes? Crude ladders? A combination? We shall never know. Any such implements have long since returned to dust along with the bones of those who made them.
Update: The current status of Spruce Tree House, according to park service information, is: closed for the foreseeable future, due to rock slides.
Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde
Behold here what these people of old did to make these cliff-side refuges livable. Carved with brawn and out of intuition, ingenuity, and even desperation, they fashioned huge cave cities--walls, doors, windows, balconies, walkways, even subterranean religious chambers. All the things necessary to their way of life.
Yet they possessed no colleges, no professors, no slide rules or higher mathematics. Still and all, upon this lack of formal education, built cities which have lasted for centuries, preserved, in part, in an ironic twist, by the very climate which may have driven them out of existence.
I wonder if our architects, engineers and contractors of today, stripped of their tools, could do as well?
Drive the Ruins Road loop, and see the cliff-top ruins. The Far View Ruin is the most extensive of the dwelling area ruins. These are the remains of pit-houses, even older than the ancient cliff dwellings themselves. It was from these ancient abodes that the Anasazi fled to the cliffs. Perhaps drought? Perhaps warfare? We are not really sure; there is no convincing evidence of the latter. Perhaps it was a command from their 'gods.' The answer to the question, "where did the Anasazi go, and why?" has vanished with them from the face of the earth.
Sun Temple Ruin, Mesa Verde
Visit, too, on this road the magnificent Sun Temple, which archaeologists believe was abandoned without ever having been completed. Both of these ruins (Far View and Sun Temple) have been stabilized by modern methods so they may be climbed over, upon and into with safety. There is much activity here--children scrambling about--no doubt oblivious to the significance of that upon which they so joyously clamber. Their parents, somewhat more cognizant, are snapping photos.
Connecting To The Past
I stood aside from the commotion for a moment, and visited the place with my soul as well as my eyes. There is a haunting lonliness here; a sadness pervades all and makes the soul cry out in anguish for what has been lost and can be no more. Even the ghosts are gone now from here. It is empty and sad and still. A tear has sprung, unbidden, to my eye, and I know I have been in communion with the ancient ones, if only for a moment.
The shouted discovery of another passageway by one of the children jerked me back to the present, and I, too, began to join the others in pressing shutter buttons, hoping to capture for myself a small piece of what remains.
Now, if you ever have a yen to visit our past, do tour Mesa Verde, and please--visit with your heart. Oh, and if you find yourself momentarily moved to another level of consciousness, say "hello" to the Anasazi for me.
© 2010 Liz Elias
More by this Author
About an hour to the east of San Francisco, lies the historic Black Diamond Mines site. If you’re planning a visit to San Francisco or the greater Bay Area, this is an interesting side trip...
One of my favorite vacation spots is Calaveras Big Trees State Park in California. The stately redwoods and the sad reminders of logging days in the area, combine to remind us of why these trees must be saved.
Seven easy steps, thoroughly explained, to get better gas mileage and keep more money in your wallet