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Date of visit:
January 25, 2002

For location of this site in CO, click on the map:
Location of Mesa Verde
 

We rate this site a:

Site Highlights:
 Easily accessible
 Drive w/switchbacks
 Museum
 Uncrowded in winter
 Pithouses
 Cliff dwellings
 Ranger guided tours
 Canyon vistas
 Hiking trails

 Kachina

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Go to first part of trip - Salmon Ruins - Aztec Ruins
Go to second part of trip - Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge RR
Go to fourth part of trip - Chaco Culture National Historic Park
The World of the Mesa Verde People
Mesa Verde National ParkAbout 1,400 years ago, long before any European exploration of North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. For more than 700 years their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Then in the late 1200s, within the span of one or two generations, they left their homes and moved away.

Mesa Verde National Park, which occupies part of a large plateau rising high above the Montezuma and Mancos Valleys, preserves a spectacular reminder of this 1,000 year-old culture. Archeologists have called these people Anasazi, from a Navajo word that has sometimes been translated to mean "the ancient enemies." We now call them the Ancestral Puebloans, reflecting their modern descendants. Ever since local cowboys first saw the cliff dwellings a century ago, archeologists have been trying to understand the life of these people. But despite decades of excavation, analysis, classification, and comparison, our scientific knowledge is still sketchy. We will never know the whole story of their existence, for they left no written records and much that was important in their lives has perished. Yet for all their silence, these structures speak with a certain eloquence. They tell of a people adept at building, artistic in their crafts, and skillful at making a living from a difficult land. The structures are evidence of a society that over the centuries accumulated skills and traditions and passed them on from one generation to another. By Classic times (1100 to 1300), the people of Mesa Verde were the heirs of a vigorous civilization, with accomplishments in community living and the arts that rank among the finest expressions of human culture in North America.

Taking advantage of nature, the Ancestral Puebloans built their dwellings beneath the overhanging cliffs. Their basic construction material was sandstone, which they shaped into rectangular blocks about the size of a loaf of bread. The mortar between the blocks was a mix of mud and water. Rooms averaged about 6 feet by 8 feet, space enough for two or three persons. Isolated rooms in the rear and on the upper levels were generally used for storing crops.

Much of the daily routine took place in the open courtyards in front of the rooms. Pottery was fashioned there, as well as various tools-knives, axes, awls, scrapers-made from stone and bone. Fires built in summer were mainly for cooking. In winter, when the alcove rooms were damp and uncomfortable, fires probably burned throughout the village. Smoke-blackened walls and ceilings are reminders of the biting cold these people lived with for several months each year.

Clothing closely followed the seasons. In summer the adults probably wore simple loincloths and sandals. In winter they dressed in hides and skins and wrapped themselves against the cold in blankets made of turkey feathers and robes of rabbit fur.

The Ancestral Puebloans spent much of their time getting food, even in the best of years. Farming was the main business of these people, but they supplemented their crops of beans, corn, and squash by gathering wild plants and hunting deer, rabbits, squirrels, and other game. Their only domestic animals were dogs and turkeys.

Fortunately for us the Ancestral Puebloans tossed their trash close by. Scraps of food, broken pottery and tools, anything unwanted, went down the slope in front of their homes. Much of what we know about daily life here comes from these garbage heaps.


Site Gallery - Mesa Verde
Mesa Top
Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive
Pithouse
Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive
Square Tower Cliff Dwellings
Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive
Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive
Early Pueblo Villages Dwellings
Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive
Sun Point Cliff Dwellings
Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive
Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive
Oak Tree Cliff Dwelling
Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive
Fire Temple Cliff Dwellings
Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive
Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive
Sun Temple
Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive
Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive
Cliff Palace Cliff Dwellings
Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive
Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive Mesa Top Loop Drive
Panoramic view of Cliff Palace

The Spruce Tree House
Spruce Tree House, the third largest cliff dwelling among several hundred within park boundaries (Cliff Palace and Long House are larger), was constructed between A.D. 1200 and 1276 by the Anasazi. The dwelling contains about 114 rooms and eight kivas (kee-vahs), or ceremonial chambers, built into a natural cave measuring 216 feet (66 meters) at greatest width and 89 feet (27 meters) at its greatest depth. It is thought to have been home for about 100 people.

Spruce Tree House was opened for visitation following excavation by Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Fewkes removed the debris of fallen walls and roofs and stabilized the walls approximately as you see them now. Due to the protection of the overhanging cliff, Spruce Tree House had deteriorated very little through the years and has required little supportive maintenance.

The cliff dwelling was first reported in 1888, when two local ranchers chanced upon it while searching for stray cattle. A large tree, which they identified as a Douglas spruce, was found growing from the front of the dwelling to the mesa top. It is said that the men first entered the ruin by climbing down this tree, which was later cut down by another early explorer.


Site Gallery - Spruce Tree
Spruce Tree Tour Spruce Tree Tour Spruce Tree Tour
Spruce Tree Tour Spruce Tree Tour Spruce Tree Tour
Spruce Tree Tour Spruce Tree Tour Spruce Tree Tour
Spruce Tree Tour Spruce Tree Tour Spruce Tree Tour
Spruce Tree Tour Spruce Tree Tour Spruce Tree Tour

Text source and maps extracted from brochures provided by the site.
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