Mesa Verde National Park is located in the southwest corner of Colorado. This lookout is at the north end of the park, with a view over the town of Cortez. The peak on the left is Ute Mountain, with Utah just beyond that.
The mesa is riddled with canyons like these, which slope down toward New Mexico. The elevation is over 7000 feet, and the clouds look like they're right on top of you.
Mesa Verde is filled with archaelogical sites, which date back as far as two-thousand years. This excavated house was state-of-the art in 800AD or so. Covered over with a combination wood and earth roof, these houses kept their occupants safe from the elements.
The design evolved into what is now known as a “kiva”, which are still used today for ceremonial purposes by the modern Pueblo people.
In later years, more architecture moved above ground. These stones formed the base of a tower, which was built on top of two abandoned kivas.
Some fairly large scale buildings, which probably housed many families, started appearing by 1000AD.
A former window, or possibly a door. The people at the time were a few inches shorter on average than we are today.
The most spectacular dwellings in Mesa Verde by far are in the cliffs. This is Cliff Palace, the largest in the park, and indeed, the largest in North America.
Built into a natural sandstone alcove, this site features over twenty kivas and dozens of regular rooms.
Almost all of the stonework is original, though part of this tower was reconstructed (the discolored area in the third floor) to stabilize the rooms above it.
You're allowed to look through this window at the tower's base, which has been discolored by the many people who have touched it.
Some original wall paintings remain preserved in the very top of the tower, above the rebuilt portion.
The big mystery about Mesa Verde is why everyone left it. Shortly after the giant cliff dwellings were completed, the people who built them started to leave. By about 1300AD, the mesa top was empty. The sites were only rediscovered in the 1870s, and protected as a national park in 1906.
Why the inhabitants decided to flee is a subject of much debate, but the region is prone to frequent droughts and fires. Some combination of drought, fire, and depleting resources may have triggered the move.
Fires are still a frequent occurrence in the area, triggered primarily by lightning strikes.
This tree is partially burned, but part of it continues to survive.
We found lots of interesting critters, too, like this collared lizard.
A grasshopper on an outdoor table.
Lots of big, fuzzy caterpillars.
A very small horned lizard. I'd never seen one of these in person before!
And cicadas at some of the higher elevations in the park.
Beautiful red and black ants, much more exciting than the boring local variety.
We came in the green season, and flowers were in bloom everywhere.
Many of the cacti were in bloom as well.
Some lichens growing on an ancient planter box.
Here's another of the large dwellings, Long House.
In the back of the dwelling, you can see where rain seeps through the sandstone into the back of the cave, a ready source of water.
They knew how to pick a nice view.
The quality of the stonework varied a great deal. Here are some unimproved stone walls, with no mortar or stabilizer, which have survived over 800 years. You can also make out nesting ravens in the right-hand alcove, the only modern residents.