Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mesa Verde: The Green Table

Mesa Verde is a World Heritage Site and the only of our National Parks that "preserves the works of man" as proclaimed in the National Parks brochure. 

Way back in the 1980's we visited Mesa Verde and I have fond memories of that vacation trip.  I've been looking forward to this return visit but I'm amazed at how much I've forgotten about the area. 
Overlooking the Mancos Valley
The only entry into the massive Mesa Verde National Park is from the northern side with a very long drive through the mountains and canyons into the communities. 

Just inside the park we explored Morefield Campground, but it does not accommodate rigs as large as ours.  Even though it's not yet Memorial Day Weekend, the rental campers are plentiful. One even has a licence place from France.

The first one (right) is from France.  Wonder how they got it across the pond...

 Any time I leave the car, Ozzie is quick to occupy my seat. Lexie prefers the console so she can see out the windshield

Our first overlook stop in Mesa Verde is at Knife's Edge Road, a narrow dirt road that proved to be both challenging and inviting back in the very early 1900's when America was first becoming obsessed with automobile travel.  Knife's Edge Road provided the first access to Mesa Verde.  Two Studebakers and two Fords were among the first cars to make the treacherous to Park Headquarters and back to the nearby town of Mancos, paying $1 each for the round trip.  The Knife's Edge Road was continually collapsing (horrors) and was finally replaced with a tunnel through the mountain.

The edge along the right side is (apparently, not marked though), Knife's Edge.
I just thought the dead tree was photo-worthy.

My explorer husband with the "ever present" binoculars in hand.
I've convinced him to wear a brimmed hat to protect his head from the sun.
The mountain in the far distance is Sleeping Ute. Somewhere between here and there is our campground.
As is common in our travels, this morning we ran upon several nice and interesting folks.  Leaving the Knife's Edge area we couldn't help but notice this Volkswagen van. It's been restored by a young Alaskan couple for family travel.  They were kind enough to allow me to take a picture. 

Then we ran into Mike and Sara, a couple of Oregon Ducks with whom we enjoyed a few minutes sharing notes and ideas about travel places.  They aren't full-time RV'ers but do spend several months each year traveling.  We'd love to meet up with them again -- notwithstanding their "Duck Devotion". They graciously allowed me to photograph them.

The highest point in Mesa Verde National Park is Park Point Fire Lookout Tower at 8,572 feet.    With the creation of of the park in 1906 came the claim that it held "the grandest view" -- so that's what's in store for visitors here today:  The Grandest View.  It's a 360 degree extravaganza.
My explorer husband.

Old guy on patrol.  Nothing escapes the eagle eye.
By mid-day, we had reached the canyons and mountain cliffs of Mesa Verde.  Puebloans came to Mesa Verde (Spanish for "green table") around AD 550 and remained there until about 1300. During the 700 years the Puebloans were here they lived in elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of canyon walls. Then in about AD 1200, they were gone. No one knows why.
Spruce Tree House (zoomed for close-up)
It is the best preserved of the cliff dwellings..

Spruce Tree from a distance.
The park brochure says they farmed on the mesa above.  
And I thought I had a tough time getting to work..
For thousands of years the cliff dwellings were (apparently) uninhabited and hidden away.  Then in the 1880's, local cowboys found the amazing cliff dwellings. Later, archaeologists would spend decades excavating, analyzing, classifying and comparing scientific data about the remains at Mesa Verde.  There is an extensive story about life here, but we will never know it all, including, but not limited to, the reason they left so abruptly.

It's really warm in the sun today so we looked for shady places to stand.

As usual, we have Lexie and Ozzie with us, so we are unable to visit the cliff dwellings. That's okay because we're not up for climbing ladders, hiking rocks or crawling through holes in the rocks. The sun is high and the temperature is in the 80's.  We'll take it all in from a distance this time.

Cliff Palace is the largest of Mesa Verde's cliff dwellings.

I think this one is part of Cliff Canyon Overlook.

Trouble and double trouble.

Look closely at the very center of the photo to see this cliff home.
Also part of Cliff Canyon Overlook

Famous archaeologists?  No... not really.  It's just us.
I can't find the tripod so I'm holding the camera. 

I think this cliff home is near Sun Point view
Just another great view of Mesa Verde.
We have to double-back to leave the park at the end of the day.
Everything looks different in the afternoon.
Not surprisingly, there have been many fires here in recent years and the tree remains are evidence of it.

While touring the area the first day, we ran into Gwen and George friends we met at MCD Innovations in McKinney, Texas. Gwen and George are full-timers and we looked forward to spending a little time together, either at their campground or ours, but it never did work out.  They ended up leaving the area and we can only hope we'll cross paths again.

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