Colorado! Exploring Mesa Verde's cliff dwellings

Trip Start Oct 30, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Colorado
Tuesday, July 5, 2011

We drove north into Colorado from New Mexico, just enough to tour the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde. This was easily one of the highlights of our trip (not to be missed). 
It took a little time to see signs of the type of geography & scenery you'd expect from Colorado -- initially easily retaining the desert seen throughout NM -- but gradually, we made our way upward and came into mountains of heavy-branched trees, lakes, rivers, and painted metal rooftops that blended less into the earth than the pueblo's earth tones across in New Mexico.
And then it got flat again. We passed single monstrous mountaintops that seemed as though it could have easily carried Mesa Verde's etched houses in its side, but none of them were it. Instead the land flattened out for a bit, and just when our GPS began to tick us closer to our destination, a massive, green mound stood, stretching as a halting wall before us
Trucking up this mountain, our car swirling and zigzagging past steep edges (my mom frequently warned to slow down), and then suddenly, still, secluded meadows. We passed wild horses grazing together among spotty trees and low brush, and past acres of burned pinyon-juniper trees from recent wild fires -- which damaged over 25,000 acres in 2000 alone (*fortunately they say only 5% are man made). 

Trees grow back, so this breezed past my notice as quickly as our car did, until I learned that the burned pinyon-juniper trees we passed, take centuries to grow back (100 years just to mature). All the burned stubs and branches covering must of the mountain top we drove through, wouldn't be filled again in our lifetime like they appeared merely a decade ago!*

Once we got to what felt like the middle of the mountain, we parked, climbing as tourists down a path and in view of the largest portion of Mesa Verde's cliff dwellings, which the discoverers named, "Cliff Palace." 

MOST awesomely**, our guide lead us down directly to the main area to explore (with many rules and precautions -- mostly to monitor architecturally disruptive behavior than safety, which never felt as a threat), pausing to discuss and answer questions at various areas of the "palace." 

Shown are near step-by-step illustrations from pictures I took, of our tour, which later led to a tour of a second section of the park called, "Balcony House."

Our guide said what is open to the public to tour is just a small sliver of what is actually all out here (sure enough you could see other dwellings across the canyon if you searched), and we did stay in isolated portions of the dwellings...
though the tiny tunnel we had to crawl through (after warnings of claustrophobia) and the 30 foot ladder we had to crawl up... seemed entirely unprecedented in an American tour** -- which I immensely appreciated. 

Quick fun facts:
- The people who lived here only did for about 80 years!
- No one factually knows what happened to them or why they left
- Neighboring tribes would fight with one another, prompting them to construct hiding places for food/resources
- The people literally scaled the cliffs to get up and down (no ladders or steps) 
- Cliff Palace had a natural stream that flowed behind the constructed homes   

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