I’d been wanting to visit this national park for a long time but this area of the country is far from any major Interstate, so you really need to make it a destination unto itself.
At the start of the day, I thought the park seemed a bit overpriced and underwhelming compared to other major national parks. There was a $15 admission charge to get in, a 45-minute drive up to the mesa top before you started to see anything, and you had to go to the Visitor’s Center to buy additional tour tickets if you wished to see any of the cliff houses up close. Man, you really have to want to see this park!
But by the end of the day, I was exhausted and exhilarated. It was a very unique, historical, and captivating place. Certainly worth it’s price and it’s national park designation.
In the meantime, I headed to Spruce Tree House, the one cliff house available to self-guided tours. After a pretty steep path down into the canyon, you crossed a small bridge and creek to walk back up to the cliff house. Even though there were tons of visitors, the rangers guarding the site made sure that everyone stayed on the safe viewing platforms and walkways to not cause any harm to the dwellings themselves. As one ranger told us “think of this as your 800-year-old grandmother and handle her gently!”
Not only are the adobe bricks original, but so is most of the wood. Amazing!
After enjoying the coolness of the underground room, it was time to hike a few hundred feet back up the canyon….ugh! Afternoon temps were in the 90’s and a far cry from the cool mountain temps of the Alpine Loop at 12,000 feet! But I finally made it back to my car and on over to Cliff Palace in time for my tour.
Our ranger, Marianna, was fun and educational.
She told us that the Ancestral Puebloans built Cliff Palace around 1200 AD. It was the largest of the nearly 600 cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde. The Puebloans farmed the land on top of the mesa. There are many theories as to why they built their houses beneath the mesa— safety from predators and other tribes, better insulation from temperature extremes, water storage in the rocks, and the ability to keep as much land on the mesa top available for farming. They believe drought and stories of more easily farmable land along the Rio Grande valley a few hundred miles east led the Puebloans to finally abandon the cliff dwellings.
Even with our modern conveniences of stairs and ladders, these dwellings were quite a challenge to get to and from! Can’t imagine the hardships of living here.