mesa verde

I was cleaning out our storage unit yesterday and came across a few old photo albums. One of them had this picture from my last visit to Mesa Verde National Park all the way back in 2003.

Awww… we were such kids back then. And yet, Mesa Verde was exactly the same eight years later. It’s probably been exactly the same for at least 800 years or more. I’m guessing there was a period of time when it wasn’t ruins and was actually the thriving population all of the signage said it was. Also, according to the signage, there were lots of dogs around. Sometimes they were snapping at the meat.

And sometimes just resting peacefully.

What I want to know, though, is how did the dogs climb up the ladders? Can dogs do that? Anyway, last time I went to Mesa Verde, we actually did take a tour of one of the cliff dwellings. I had to make it back to Durango later that day to catch my flight, so I didn’t have much time. I decided just to drive the Mesa Top Loop and check out some sites. But there’s a lot of driving to do once you get into the park. Here’s the mesa from the entrance.

As I wound around up to the top, I saw a pullover for the highest point of the mountain, so of course I took it. You have to hike up a little bit following this path lined with leafless branches. (I wish I knew more about the names of flora and fauna, but not enough to actually look it up.)

And then you can see a panorama of the whole valley. It’s strange to think that I was in those mountains just a few hours before.

At first, the Mesa Top Loop was mostly just a lot of scorched trees, pit houses, and adobes.

But there was also plenty of stops where you could view the cliff dwellings. Sometimes it felt like playing “where’s waldo” as you searched the cliffs in front of you because they were so well camouflaged.

Can you see them? At one overlook, I was next to a French couple who kept trying to spot some. Finally, we saw the Square House on our side of the canyon.

I liked seeing the tiny people on the other side of the canyon, too, and wondered if they were looking at me.

Since I was following a loop with several stops, I kept running into the same people who were also following the loop. One of them was what appeared to be a college group on a field trip. I was a little jealous, but mostly I was jealous of the cute orange field books they all carried and would write notes in and draw sketches.

Even though exploring the cliff dwellings on my last visit was fascinating, and I would definitely recommend it for those visiting the park for the first time, I didn’t really miss it on this trip. I think the most fascinating thing about the cliff dwellings is actually seeing them as part of the entire cliff. On the tour, you’re a little too close to it to get the full picture that you can see from across the canyon.



  1. sarabaldwin · October 26, 2011

    After reading/looking at pictures from your Colorado posts, I’m left wondering why I haven’t been to these places before! (At least that I know of – maybe I went when I was younger, but I don’t remember.) Incredible! Mesa Verde has just been added to my “to-do” list.

  2. Nan · October 27, 2011

    Just FYI, those leafless branches are burned over gambel oak. You can see the undergrowth is all new oak sprouting from the roots. The other burnt trees are probably pinion/juniper. I don’t know if you read about the fires there at all, but unlike oak, pinion juniper woodland could take hundreds of years to reestablish by themselves. It seems like they would more adapted to fire because they are in such dry areas, but they don’t take that well to it and their fire return interval is usually 300-400 years.

    • katie · October 27, 2011

      oh thanks nan! I was actually hoping you’d drop by and let me know. I had no idea about the fire return interval for juniper.. that’s amazing. And kind of sad.

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