Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 12, 2010

Mesa Verde, CO, in spring snows

ladder into a kiva at Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde; dust in air

Do you ever wonder about the people who lived in your area before you did? Waaaay before you did? The Colorado Plateau — which is parts of AZ, NM, CO, and UT — contain many evidences of early inhabitants. Rock art depicts many symbols of the people who lived here.¬†Sometimes granaries (for storage of their crops) were built into alcoves or on mesa tops. If you have eyes to see, lots of telltale clues inform us of people living here before us.

masonry dwellings at Spruce Tree House

The pinnacle, however, seems to be when we discover their dwellings. In 1888, some cowboys were chasing down their errant cattle for a round-up, and rode into the deep canyons containing Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings. They could not believe their eyes. It was such an incredible discovery that it took only 18 years to become a national monument. It is now a World Heritage Site, on a par with Egypt’s pyramids.

Square Tower, four stories, 26 ft, tallest structure of the ruins

These ruins are all 13th-century masonry construction, datable via dendrochronology (studying tree rings in roof timbers). The trees in the area seemed to quit growing around 1276; it is presumed that a long ¬†and terrible drought (24 years’ worth) precipitated their abandoning these marvelous structures, which have stood for over seven centuries. My preferred way of looking upon ancient homes is to imagine the lives of the people who lived there. How did they stay warm in the winters? Who planted the crops? Did the girls laugh about the boy next door as they ground the corn? Where did they learn to weave, or to create clay pots? Who helped in childbirth? Was there anything resembling a school? How many generations shared a room?

snow, and lots of it, dominated the high elevations along the 20 miles of entrance road

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4 Comments »

  1. Did you get to the dwellings before Olive was hurt? I loved visiting that monument. It is amazing. Mom

    Comment by Mom — March 12, 2010 @ 10:29 pm | Reply

    • Yes — it was upon leaving Mesa Verde that the deer jumped me.

      Comment by kath56ryn — March 12, 2010 @ 11:08 pm | Reply

  2. It’s interesting that these cultures had discovered mortar (or was it just sun-dried mud). The Romans used a kind of early concrete but this was a much more primitive culture so mud may have done the trick in this dry climate.

    Comment by leroque — March 13, 2010 @ 8:17 pm | Reply

    • I was told that their recipe for ‘mortar’ included mud, grasses, and a couple other things I can’t remember. It was definitely not ‘concrete’ and any structures near the drip line fell apart.

      Comment by kath56ryn — March 13, 2010 @ 8:30 pm | Reply


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