Friday, 12 October 2012

A Step Back in Time

Oct. 9th - Tuesday

 This whole area, in the south west of Colorado is full of "Mesa's" - table top like plateaus - escarpment like separated by canyons or open valleys. To get to the Cliff Dwellings, we had a challenging climb up (for our  little Van) to the top of the Mesa Verde which gave us amazing views down into the Montezuma Valley where we had just  come from ( town of Cortez). Arriving in the middle of the night  I didn't have a sense of where we were so it was like oh..  this is what Colorado looks like! 

Montezuma Valley.. town of Cortez, Colorado below

The Mesa Verde National Park is a World Heritage Site because of it's archeological significance. For only a short period in the history of the Native Indian peoples in this area- the Ancient Puebloan people - lived in cliff dwellings. They moved from village structures on the top of the Mesa's to cliff dwellings squeezed under sandstone alcoves. They lived in them for about 100 years (roughly the 1200 AD time frame) and they aren't sure why they started living in the cliff dwellings and not sure why they left- some theories around defensive reasons with warring tribes and some theories about scarce resources. Either way, it was so interesting to be able to walk amongst these ruins and I loved it that the boys were seeing it too. We went on two Park Ranger led tours (got there nice and early). The largest structure called Cliff Palace once housed about 120 inhabitants and it was pretty cool to be standing there looking up at the rock and realizing that the top of the Mesa was just above us. The dwellings are hidden from sight if you were above but like a neighbour across the street if you were on the other side of the canyon. They have found 600 cliff dwellings in the canyons in the Mesa Verde area ( along with older "pit houses" and village structures on the Mesa). 

Picture to show you the Mesa (top) and
the cliff dwellings where in the walls of the canyon

Cliff Palace

steep path to get to Cliff Palace

The second tour was pretty scary and we had been warned that it's not for people with health challenges or fear of heights or claustrophobia. First we had to go down some stairs.. not so bad.. then we had to climb a 10 meters ( 30ft) ladder along a cliff face (not stairs.. a ladder! So that means it was straight up!) which brought us into Balcony House,  but to get out, we  had to crawl through a tunnel and then take another steep ladder which then led to climbing up the rock face which had chains to help us! I have a bit of vertigo so heart was pounding on ladder accents!  But so interesting that these ancient peoples decided to live here. And during their times, they would have entered and left through the tunnel (only at this site.. they are not sure why). The boys loved  this tour with it's ladders and tunnel and the warnings about the challenges of going on this tour "it's not for everyone" just added to the excitement.  

ladder up to Balcony House
(and the bottom of the ladder is resting on a ledge of  a cliff.. not the ground)
view from Balcony House looking to the other side of the canyon

No guard rails! The round hole is a Kiva..
would have had a flat top on it with a a square hole in the middle for a ladder.

After the two tours of their prime archeological sites, we wandered the park and saw the other ruins and at one we were able to  go down the "kiva" -  a sunken room that they think was used for ceremonial and/or cooking.. sort of like the family room of a house.

"Spruce Tree House" - the hole is the entrance to a Kiva..
would have a ladder

Fairly roomy!

Sean found the day, the ruins, the Ranger talks all very interesting and was listening intently on what the Park Rangers were saying about how the ancient Puebloans lived.  I was thrilled the next day when Sean transformed a styrofoam bowl (from the Motel's continental breakfast) into a Pit House ( the earlier dwellings before the cliff dwellings  -  he turns the bowl upside down, cuts a hole out of the bottom and draws a ladder on it - " Look, it's a Pit House!") I knew he was listening and interested during the talks and tours but to then see that learning come out, transformed into this styrofoam pit house, with detailed drawings that showed he really was paying attention! It is just awesome to see! For Liam, he says the only tour he liked was the one with the tunnel. 

Overall, a  very special day.. so interesting to see these dwellings and think of the lives of these peoples that lived over 800 years ago. And so amazing that the boys were experiencing it with us (even if Liam was excited by it, I knew he was still taking it in). A very fitting way to end our travels and start "driving home". Tomorrow we'll take the drive home a bit more earnestly and hit the interstates. 

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