“ Country: USA / National Park International / World Region: South America „
Mesa Verde National Park, Utah
This park covers a huge 52,000 acres of stunningly beautiful canyon country and is America's premier "archaeological wonder" and it was named by National Geographic's Traveller magazine as one of the fifty "Must see" places of a lifetime. This was America's first World Heritage Site and it was the home of the Anasazi or Ancient Puebloans over 700 hundred years ago.
The National Park costs $15 per car in season or $10 low season but if you have the season ticket known as "America The Beautiful Card" then your entrance to the park is already paid. If you would like to go into either Cliff Palace, Balcony House or Long House Cliff dwellings then tickets are an extra $3 per person per dwelling and you have to buy these for a specific time from the Far Visitor's Centre within the park and 23 miles from the Park Entrance. During peak times you may have to choose one or other of the ranger guided dwellings to visit but we were lucky as we managed to visit both of these.
Times and dates are quite complicated so if you would like to visit then plan your trip and use the website to check dates and times of opening.
A TINY BIT OF HISTORY
Just to put the place in context. No one is really sure who these tribal people were or why they came to the area and still even stranger why did they choose to build these places in the cliff with no easy access? Then they left the area, what happened to cause this departure? For those of you who have an interest in this history then it is possible to download a brochure about the archaeology of this area on www.mesaverdecountry.com.
It is thought that these people farmed the land in the area growing corn, beans and squash until around 1300 but as the climate changed and became drier they struggled to farm the land. Archaeologists believe that the cliff dwellings were not jut normal dwellings, they were possibly built for religious reasons and the important people lived in these almost inaccessible dwellings. Ordinary people would bring supplies in by climbing up and down the walls using just finger holes in the rocks.
Other people have suggested that the dwellings were constructed under the cliffs for defensive reasons but there is little evidence of any hostility. Did they move under the shelter to be better protected from the weather?
Around AD1280 the Pueblo people left this area and moved down southwards to New Mexico and Arizona. They believe they left after a prolonged drought and so years of failed crops and less game to kill for food must have driven them southwards.
This cliff dwelling is open from April 10 to November 12 and it can only be visited as part of a ranger guided tour with a pre purchased ticket $3 per person bought from the Far Visitor Centre. The tour takes about an hour and you must be at the Cliff Dwelling at least ten minutes before your ticket tour time.
Distances in the park are quite long and so you must plan your visits carefully. The Cliff Palace is about 8 miles and they suggest that this can take about 30 minutes to drive from the Far Visitor Centre and then you have to park your car and get to the meeting area for the tour.
The tour requires you to walk a distance of about quarter of a mile but that is the easy part. You also have to be able to climb ladders which are high, hanging over the edge with only ropes or rather basic metal rails to hang on to. There are a total of five ladders each of which are about ten feet long and then finally you have a 100 foot climb which is vertical on ladders in order to exit the dwelling.
You are met by your guide in an area where you can clearly see the cliff dwelling and you are able to take photos from above and watch the groups in front of you make their way down and then up and out. The guide reminds you about the ladders then you start the descent to the cliff dwelling. This is actually not a bad climb down as there are stone carved stairs and a path under the cliff. You stop about half way down where you can see the dwelling or village a bit more closely and then the guide tells you something about the history of the people who built the dwellings and why they think they built them in such inaccessible places.
You are then taken to the dwelling or village and each 'house' and building s explained. This dwelling had a number of 'kivas' which are religious or spiritual underground meeting places. Because there are so many of these 'kivas' archaeologists believe that these cliff dwellings must have been for specially important people in the tribe or religious leaders rather than just normal people.
In one building you could clearly see the imprint of a corn cob in one of the clay bricks. It was very interesting to hear the theories about why they built the very challenging buildings under the cliffs and to walk in a place where so much history and history that is still such a mystery had taken place.
Was it difficult? Well yes it was not for anyone with a fear of heights as the ladders were steep, up against the cliff face and there was not a lot around you for safety. Sometimes you had to move from one ladder to another and that is what I found most nerve wracking as you had to move across with just a rather wobbly rail to hold on to. The last climb of 100 foot vertically upwards was also quite a challenge. It was quite hot and so you had to ensure you had enough water, sunscreen on and wear a hat that you were sure would stay put as you couldn't hold on to it and climb upwards.
Was it worth it? Yes it was a really interesting experience and we struggled with the ladders. The original builders of the dwelling used the cliff face and hand holds in the rocks alone, it did make you appreciate their climbing skills.
This dwelling is open from April 24 to October 15 and costs $3 per person for the guided ranger tour. This dwelling is 10 miles which they suggest takes about 35 minutes driving from the Far Visitor Centre so make sure you leave enough time to get there in time for your ticket tour time.
This dwelling is slightly more challenging than the Cliff House in that you have to climb ladders to get into the dwelling as well as to get out. The experience starts with a climb of 32 feet up a vertical ladder with wide rungs to get into the dwelling.
This dwelling is longer than the Cliff House and is not a photogenic. It is called Balcony House as it has wooden balconies on some parts of the building. They believe that these are for storage but it was interesting that these wooden structures had survived all these years as the climate is so dry and the dwellings are safely protected from most weather by the cliffs over them.
As you move through this dwelling you have to squeeze yourself through a narrow gap between the rock faces and then you come to a tunnel which has an opening about 18 inches high and this tunnel is about 12 feet long. This can be a bit hard on your knees but once in the tunnel the roof is a bit higher so I could crouch rather than be on my knees.
You just about recover from crawling along the rock floor in the tunnel then you are met with a 60 foot long climb upwards along an open rock face followed by two ten foot ladders to exit the dwelling.
This house was an experience and as you have probably gathered would not suit anyone who has any mobility problems, any height issues or if you are too fat you won't fit through the tunnel which could be embarrassing. I would say that you would need to have a reasonable level of fitness and if you are taking children then be aware of what they have to be able to do.
THE SPRUCE TREE HOUSE
This house was the third house that we chose to visit as we could do this one by ourselves. In winter this dwelling is by ranger guided tours only but is self guided in summer.This is the third largest of the cliff dwellings in the park. They believe this was constructed between AD1200 and AD1276 and the dwelling has 114 rooms and eight kivas which are the underground spiritual or ceremonial chambers. They believe this place was home to about 100 people at its prime.
When you visit this dwelling you have quite a long walk but it is all paved and accessible by wheel chairs. It is a down hill walk to the dwelling and all in the shade of the trees and the cliffs. The return walk is quite hard going as it is all uphill so make sure you have enough water as it gets very hot and wear a hat and sunscreen as there are places where you are in full sun.
Once in the dwelling there are guides you can talk to or you can pay 50c and buy a guide book from the honesty boxes. Within this dwelling is a kiva reconstructed that you can go down into using a short ladder. There is virtually no natural light and the fire in the middle would have been pretty smoky too I should imagine so it would have been a very hot, smoky atmosphere for the ceremony especially in summer.
This was a very interesting day we spent in this National Park. We chose our three dwellings to visit carefully as they were within a drivable distance to do in one day and they also looked to be the most interesting, They were certainly an experience but if you decide to visit the park then do some research, find out what is required of you physically. Think about the timing of the places you need to get to as the roads are twisty and you climb up and down so distances are deceptively further than you think. I believe it took us quite a good hour from Cortex to get to the park entrance and then it was another thirty five minutes to get to the Far Visitor Centre to buy the tickets.
There are toilets in the park at the different sites they are pretty basic but at the Visitor centres they are a bit better. Once again you need to think of this when planning your visit. You don't want to be desperate for the toilet when climbing up the 100 foot ladder!
WOULD I RECOMMEND?
Yes it was brilliant but if you have mobility problems then your visit will be more limited. If you don't like heights or small places like tunnels then you may not really enjoy the two dwellings we visited first. My daughter's partner was very unsure as he doesn't like heights but he did the two visits and was very pleased that he did as it was interesting and a bit of a challenge too .
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
Today, the park protects over 4,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.