This is the last of the “Additional Photos” posts on the road trip I undertook in September and October. It is fitting that it covers Mesa Verde National Park, near the town of Cortez, CO. The park is not about scenery but about the fascinating history and archaeology of those who lived in the area before the arrival of the white man and western civilization.
A variety of people have lived for 13,000 years in the Mesa Verde area. They started as small groups of nomadic hunter gatherers, but around 1000 BCE they began cultivating corn to supplement their hunting diet. They weaved baskets and dug into the earth to build pithouses. Agriculture allowed population to increase, and by 750 CE the ancestral Puebloans (the politically correct name for the Anasazi) began building entire pueblos above ground with houses, some with many rooms, and kivas or ceremonial rooms.
However, Mesa Verde is better known for the cliff dwellings which the ancestral Puebloans did not begin to build until the 12th century. They only lived in those cliff houses for about 100 years, abandoning them at the end of the 13th century, following extended periods of drought that led to warfare and forced people to emigrate or die from starvation. The descendants of the ancestral Puebloans now live in Southern Arizona and New Mexico.
Ancestral Puebloans cultivated their lands on the top of the mesa above their houses. So how did they go from their cliff dwellings to their fields, or move from one level to another? They used ropes and ladders, or carved climbing steps in the sandstone. At the new Visitor Center of Mesa Verde, there is a statue by sculptor Edward J. Fraughton depicting an “ancient one” descending a narrow column of sandstone while carrying a basket of corn.