Ancient civilizations. Pueblo People. We all have studied them in our educational past to some degree. And like most, I erased most of what I learned from my memory banks shortly after the history test! Fast forward to the present and we find ourselves standing on the very ground these people called home some eight hundred years ago. “Ground” being a relative term as most of their houses were on canyon alcoves, several hundred feet up!
Our journey to the cliff dwellings begins at the Welcome Center where we get an education on the physical challenges we’ll encounter visiting “Balcony House”, a 800 year old archeological site. The 23 mile drive there has many scenic turn outs with stunning views of the valley below. Off in the distance is Ship Rock which is 50 miles away.
Thirty two foot ladders, narrow passages on hands and knees barely eighteen inches wide, and a vertical rock face all some five hundred feet above the canyon floor.
Leading our way was Ranger Ted. He was a wealth of knowledge on the ancient Pueblo way of life and has a true passion for the preservation of these sites not only here but through out the country.
This Kiva would have had a roof covering and access was by a ladder. The center hole in the floor was a fire pit. The square opening was for ventilation entering on the top of the wall.
Getting to this site certainly had its challenges. Getting out? That’s another story!
There are over 600 cliff dwellings in Mesa Verte. Some are very visible. Some are not. Some are in a state of advanced ruin and some are amazingly preserved.
Fires started from lightning strikes plague this area and thousands of acres have burned in years past. The most recent in 2002 scorched 30 thousand acres before it was extinguished. Sadly, 200 years will pass before this land will recover!
Juniper and Pinion Pine trees seen here grow on the Mesa. The ancients used these trees for shelter and fire, the bark for sandles and (are you ready for this…..) diapers!