In seeking to understand the civilizations which predated Europeans in the American Southwest, there are certain places which offer more insight than others- Chaco Culture National Park, Casa Crande Ruins, and Mesa Verde. This was my third visit to the latter national park, and probably my longest.
I arrived in Cortez at 2 A.M., Friday, and caught six hours of sleep. After a typically fine breakfast at Jack & Janelle’s, I was ready to roll.
The prognosis was for rain, but the day in southwest Colorado was picture perfect. After running a short gauntlet of road workers, I arrived in Mesa Verde at 11:30.
The terrain is filled with mountains (La Plata Range) and canyons- and has a fair amount of poison oak.
The original road into the ruins, built in 1916, resembled a country road in the Andes. It was, suitably called the Knife Edge Road.
In 1957, Knife Edge Road was replaced by a more accommodating tunnel.
The La Platas are, nonetheless, a challenging environment, several months of the year, and were all the more so for the Ancient Puebloans.
As with any civilization, that of the Ancient Puebloans started small, with pit houses, on the mesa tops.
Gradually, with more groups coming to the area, development became more robust and conflict ensued. These factors led to more sophisticated structures, and to some taking to cliff dwellings that were less accessible to interlopers.
The kiva on the above right is a prototype of those later adopted by the Hopi, Zuni and Rio Grande Puebloans, for their ceremonial use. Below are more cliff faces which attracted the short and nimble Ancient Puebloans, formerly called Anasazi (“Ancient Enemies”).
As in many organized societies, there was a system of worship, the most significant representation of which was at Sun Temple.
The lion’s share of the anthropology and archaeology which uncovered the story of these intrepid folk was led by:
Several groups of school children were learning about Gustav, and the Ancient Puebloans, at Chapin Mesa Museum, on the southeast segment of Mesa Verde. Active research goes on, especially in Wetherill Mesa, a seasonally-accessible section of the park, which won’t open until Memorial Day weekend. So, another visit to Mesa Verde will certainly be in order.
Next up, the road to Denver, and my pair of reality checks.
HIGHLIGHT: Checking out Sun Temple.