For our honeymoon in 2011, we took a two week driving tour around the southwestern USA to visit several national parks. After all was said and done, we ended up visiting nine national parks, the last of which was Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado.
Mesa Verde is quite a fascinating place. The Ancestral Pueblo people made the area their home for about 700 years (from 600 to 1300 AD) by carving houses into the rocky cliff sides and also by building on the high flat lands. The present day park is the site of nearly 5,000 archeological sites, which includes 600 cliff dwellings. Though these dwellings have been around for 1,400 years, they weren’t discovered by modern man until the late 1800s, by ranchers searching for stray cattle.
Mesa Verde is a fairly remote national park. It has no lodge and very little on site “entertainment” such as dining and gift shops. The park is a large and vast wilderness. Several of the cliff dwellings are made available for tours, but many of them are either not reachable or people aren’t allowed to enter, due to their precarious positions or delicate nature.
When we visited, we stayed at a small lodge in nearby Mancos, Colorado. The day we visited the park, we drove the 21 miles from the park entrance to the first cliff dwelling viewing spot. While in the park, we saw several cliff dwellings from various overlook points. We were also able to visit a few ancient adobe hut sites, which were open for public viewing. These sites are quite bare-bones, but they do offer a glimpse into how the ancient Pueblo people lived and worked.
It was quite amazing to see such sights. It’s not often in the USA that we’re able to see and experience the dwellings of ancient native peoples. Most of these sites have been destroyed, either by man or nature. However, the remote nature of the dwellings of Mesa Verde coupled with their protected positions on mountain sides provided fairly decent preservation.
I can’t imagine how many thousands of people lived and thrived in this area. I wonder what they did and how they survived? I also wonder what drove them out. After living in the area for nearly 700 years, what caused them to abandon it? Were they forced out by a rivaling tribe or did simply abandon the area due to depleted resources? No one knows for sure, but scientists speculate that drought drove them from the area. Once they weren’t able to grow corn, their dietary staple, the land was rather useless to them.
What I’ve been reminded of by Mesa Verde is that it’s important to remember that things change. It’s vital for us as modern humans to know that things haven’t always been how they are now. Further, how things are now won’t be how they stay forever. This is the lesson that Mesa Verde taught Jeremy and me. After visiting and spending time here, we’ve learned to better appreciate what we have, while we have it. Just a little food for thought. It’s something interesting to ponder while we go about our busy, modern lives.
If you love national parks and history, Mesa Verde is the place for you. It’s the only national park dedicated to preserving manmade structures, which makes it unique from the onset. Catching a glimpse into how ancient native tribes lived and worked was an amazing experience for us and one that we recommend highly. You may even learn a thing or two about yourself in the process.