ancestral puebloans

roller coaster in the sky

by jani on June 13, 2012

There have been moments in my life where I should have been frightened, but I have not. I’ve jumped off a 40-foot bridge into the Snake River without a bungee cord. I have never held onto a roller coaster (more thrills, right?). I’m not afraid of much of anything  – well, maybe a coiled rattler or copperhead! Point is, I’m pretty gutsy. That all changed yesterday upon entering Mesa Verde National Park. I became a possessed human being, having an almost out of body experience. Wuss is not even a close description. HB was driving, and he’s a good driver. About one mile into our ascent to the top of Mesa Verde (“green table” in Spanish), I began having an unrelenting anxiety attack, certain that our car was going over the cliff! It’s only a 15 mile drive to the top… but possibly the longest hour- plus I’ve ever spent! Did I want to ask HB to turn around? Absolutely! Am I more than glad we didn’t? Another huge ABSOLUTELY! This is an experience that should be added to everyone’s bucket list!

We never counted the cautionary curve signs… we’re guessing there may have been 25-30. Not having read up on this national park, I had imagined a nice sweet little drive into a flat park and and passively looking up at these beautiful, ancient cliff dwellings. That, is not the case! Once we reached the top of the Chapin Mesa, about 7,000 feet in elevation, I finally began to unwind and relax.

The first ancient village we came to was Far View. It is not a cliff dwelling, but a part of a collection of villages (50 have been found within a half mile radius) that thrived between A.D. 900 to about 1300. It was a farming community; corn or maize, which was seeded one foot deep into the soil, was the staple with squash and beans supplementing their diets. We felt privileged to watch the park’s archeologists working to preserve these ancient communities. Here are a few at work at Far View:

This circular area below is often referred to as a kiva, defined as a sacred place where ceremonial activity took place. But the park ranger at Far View informed me that with more excavation and understanding of these Ancestral Puebloans. There is a consensus opinion among experts, that the entire dwelling is a kiva, as ceremonial items have been found in all parts of these structures.

Note: Ancestral Puebloans is the term used today, as opposed to Anasazi, a Navajo title. The reason for this new name, as conceived by archeologists, refers to their connection with all current Pueblo Native American tribes of the Southwest; experts believe these ancient cliff dwellers are part of modern  Puebloan heritage.

Very near the Far View dwelling lies the Pipe Shrine House, named for the dozen decorated clay pipes found by Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution in the summer of 1916.

Another view of Pipe Shrine House located on Chapin Mesa

Mesa Verde was established as a national park by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906. The park logo font reminds me of the Betty Boop era. I’m sure that it’s quite intentional.

These sandals are at least 800 years old. I love the fashionable t-strap style! The Ancestral Puebloans traveled everywhere on foot and there are constant reminders of the prolific trading that went on during this period, involving communities from coastal regions to all areas of the Southwest.

What girl doesn’t love a beautiful piece of jewelry? Did I want to break the glass and try on this black necklace? Yep… oh, and there are over 5,000 beads in this beauty! Restraint, Jani!… restraint!

I promise there will be some cliff dwellers photos coming up. But as I traveled through the Chapin Mesa Museum ( a must, by the way), I couldn’t help but notice how much these ancient people contributed to our current society. Why, one or more of my posts on fashion trends today, revolves around “tribal” or “aztec” prints. I just need to use the fairly new term of Ancestral Puebloans when describing some of the geometric and chevron prints that are so prevalent today. The following examples of stunning tribal prints found on their pottery made over 1000 years ago, could be great motifs used in our clothing today!

Ancient canteen

I so love the design on this bowl!

Coffee or hot chocolate, anyone?

I promised the cliff dwellings, didn’t I? The below community, called Spruce Tree House,  is just below the Chapin Mesa Museum and there is a paved walking path directly down to this dwelling. The photos were taken from above.

The sun hit the cliff wall and cast this glow on the close-up of the Spruce Tree House

Here’s a Where’s Waldo for you! Can you find the House of Windows on the following cliff? Come on, don’t cheat by looking at the close-up of this cliff dwelling!

Did you find it? Pretty cool, isn’t it?!

There are several dwellings that a ranger-supervised tour will accommodate. If you want to go, you have to pick up the tickets either early in the morning or the night before. This is the grand Cliff Palace, taken at the vantage point where you meet the ranger and climb down to the actual cliff. WARNING: This is not a tour for anyone with health issues and always…. again, always carry enough water for you and your children. This is very high elevation!

Again the sun’s cast almost makes this close-up look like the dwelling is balancing on air!

This is from a lookout point just above Balcony House. The cliffs and canyons are magnificent!

Always watch for the mule deer and other animals that may walk in front of your vehicle. This young buck was just crossing the road to meet up with the doe on the other side.

And the purpose of his infatuation, this sweet female mule deer. They seem quite used to tourists!

We brought in Subway sandwiches and stopped at one of the picnic areas. It was serene and the quiet, peaceful sound of the wind and birds was incredibly relaxing. Make certain that you put all trash in the appropriate receptacles in the park.

Are you planning to go to any of our nations national or state parks this year? I’d love to hear about your adventures!