Today, compared to our previous days, was just a relatively awesome day. We had far less stunning scenery, however, it was an exceedingly interesting day.
We were on the road by 9.30 am and well into our usual travel plan. It seems that we spend the mornings getting to our next destination and arriving in time for lunch. We then have all the afternoon to look around.
The first part of our drive was across Navajo Territory. The landscape was flat and dry with scenery a bit reminiscent of the Top End of Australia. We passed a number of Navajo towns. All of them had names that were too hard for me to pronounce. The houses were generally surrounded with junk and old cars. At one place, I could just about trace the history of their family cars. They were in a line line beside house and they started with a round nosed car of the 1940’s and then proceeded through the cars of the 60’s and 70’s with very long bonnets and boots to the more modern cars of yesterday which must have recently joined the discard line. It’s clearly more simple to just leave he old car when a new one is purchased than to dispose of it.
Later in the morning, we came across the ‘Four Corners Monument where the state borders of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico all Intersect. It’s a bit of a tourist rip-off with an entry fee of $5 per person but I justified that as being a donation to the Navajo Nation The monument itself consists of four state lines on the ground, forming a cross, with flag poles of each state flag. The site is surrounded by a square of souvenir stalls where local people sell jewels and trinkets.
It was just about 60 kilometres from there to the Town of Cortez which services the Mesa Verde National Park. The town is situated in a strip along the highway. There are a lot of eating places and, I think, an equal number of gun shops.
Mesa Verde is Spanish for ‘green table’ and the national park provides a fascinating look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years – from AD 600 to around 1300. Today the park contains nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.
The term ‘mesa’ in this case, is a bit of a misnomer. True mesas are almost perfectly flat, but this is sn extensive topographical feature that is slanted to the south, It is intersected by north-south flowing streams that have left deep canyons and it is on these canyon walls that the Pueblans built their cliff dwellings.
Starting around 7500 years ago, Mesa Verde was seasonally inhabited by a group of nomadic Paleo-Indians known as the Foothills Mountain People. Archeological evidence shows that they lived in semi-permanent rockshelters in and around the mesa. Around 1000 years ago, a Basketmaker culture emerged from the original transient population, and by 750 years ago the Ancestral Puebloans had developed from the Basketmaker people.
The Mesa Verdeans survived using a combination of hunting, gathering, and subsistence farming of crops such as corn, beans, and squash. They built the mesa’s first pueblos sometime after 650, and by the end of the 12th century, they began to construct the massive cliff dwellings for which the park is best known. By 1285, following a period of social and environmental instability driven by a series of severe and prolonged droughts, they abandoned the area and moved south to locations in Arizona and New Mexico.
Spruce Tree House (above) is the third-largest village. It is situated close to a a spring. It had 130 rooms and eight kivas (round spiritual buildings) . It was constructed sometime between 1211 and 1278. It is believed that anywhere from 60 to 80 people lived there at one time. Because of its protective location, it is still well preserved.
We drove over 40 kilometres of roads across the mesa and then around two large loop tracks that gave us good views of the canyons and cliff dwellings.
Although the area’s first Spanish explorers named the feature Mesa Verde, the term is a misnomer, as true mesas are almost perfectly flat. Because Mesa Verde is slanted to the south, the proper geological term is cuesta, not mesa. The park is made up of several smaller cuestas located between canyons. Mesa Verde’s slant contributed to the formation of the alcoves that have preserved the area’s cliff dwellings.
Today has been a little cooler with a few rain showers. On the mesa, one of he rain showers fell as snow but wasn’t enough to cover any of the ground. As we were eating dinner tonight, back in Cortez, we had another snow storm but this time we were eating dinner inside a restaurant and it didn’t bother us. I don’t know how any of the original inhabitants of the mesa stayed warm during winter.