Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Mesa Verde National Park

Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park (which is Spanish for "green table") was created in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt and now covers 52,485 acres (80 square miles.) The park provides visitors a glimpse into  the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people from 600 to 1300 AD. Over 4700 archeological sites have been discovered in the park, 600 of which are ruins.

Ninety percent of Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings contain 10 rooms or less. One-third have only one or two rooms. This explains why Cliff Palace and its 150 rooms (photo below) , Long House, also with 150 rooms, Spruce Tree House with 130 rooms, and Balcony House with 40 rooms have become the more famous and popular cliff dwellings.

Utilizing what nature provided, the Anasazi built their homes under the overhanging cliffs. Their basic construction material was the sandstone which they fashioned into rectangular blocks about the size of a loaf of bread and bonded together using a mixture of mud and water for mortar. Rooms averaged about 6 feet by 8 feet, providing space for two or three people. Crops were generally stored in rooms on the upper levels and in the rear.

Local cowboys discovered the cliff dwellings over a hundred years ago, and ever since, archaeologists have been trying to determine and understand the life of these people. Much has been inferred, but despite decades of excavation and analysis, our knowledge remains sketchy and we may never definitively know much about their lifestyle for they left no written records.

Ladders would have been important implements in their lives.

This multi-story structure's floors were supported by the wood "joists" seen protruding from the front wall.

This photo shows the floor "joists" as I look up into the tower...

Contrary to popular belief, the Ancestral Puebloan people of Mesa Verde did not disappear. Rather, they migrated south to New Mexico and Arizona and became today’s modern pueblo people, probably due to extended drought conditions.

Mesa Verde is a World Heritage Site because large portions of the sandstone and mud-mortar multi-storey buildings have survived intact in form and materials, a tribute to the engineering skills of these early peoples as well as the dry environment of the mesa’s alcoves. These architectural remains reflect the range of ancient Pueblo construction techniques as well as settlement patterns. These exceptional archaeological sites provide eloquent testimony to the ancient cultural traditions of Native American tribes and represent a graphic link between the past and present ways of life of the Puebloan Peoples of the American Southwest.

A subterranean kiva remained about 50 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, so for the Ancestral Puebloans, it stayed cool in the summer and only a small fire was needed to keep it warm in the winter.

Plateaus are taller than they are wide at the top. Mesas are bigger on their top than they are tall. But the correct geological term for Mesa Verde is cuesta. Cuestas are similar to mesas, but instead of being relatively flat, they gently dip in one direction. Mesa Verde is inclined slightly to the south at about a seven degree angle and has been highly dissected by wind and water erosion into a series of canyons and smaller “mesas.” Elevations range from about 6,000 feet in the canyon bottoms near the southern park boundary to 8,572 feet at Park Point, about ten miles north.

Mesa Verde is prone to lightning strikes, often 100 per day in the summer, and since it is a semi-arid averaging only 18.4 inches of precipitation a year, and is an area populated with dense pinyon and juniper forest, fires can be large and intense. The most recent large fires of 2000 and 2002 have helped archeologists discover 682 previously unknown sites, leading archeologists to discover that the Ancestral Puebloans were even more successful farmers than originally believed. Post-fire surveys have led to the discovery of many more check dams and water control features than in previous surveys. These features typically consist of retaining walls placed on slopes in order to direct water to catchment features or to agricultural plots. Here's info on fire in the park.

The park's habitats support a great diversity of wildlife including resident and migratory mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, and invertebrates. Because of Mesa Verde’s protected status, many plant and animal species that have disappeared or are rarely seen in the southwest region still exist in the park, including breeding pairs of peregrine falcon and Mexican spotted owl. Many species of rare plants survive on protected park lands. Some of these rare plants, such as the Cliff Palace milkvetch, are endemic to Mesa Verde and are found nowhere else.

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