After decades of wanting to visit this National Park we finally made it. There are zillions of photos of this online but I think this photo gives a better context than the more typical closeup.
Yes, you see this is just a sandstone mesa with some pine trees, but you’ll see also that ancient village. When you visit you’ll find these structures have been restored and so not totally original but nonetheless they’re quite impressive.
My preconception of the cliff dwellings was upside-down. I’d assumed you approach them from below and climb up. But in fact the auto route and parking lots are on the top of the mesa and you descend to visit the cliff sites. The Park Service has created a bit of “fun” by having you climb some ladders or crawl through a tunnel so in addition to the awesome history there is a bit of entertainment.
To anyone reading this who hasn’t gone to Mesa Verde but wants to, note that you need tickets for the most popular tours. There is a park information site at the entrance where you buy your tickets for the tours.
When I first saw any of these ancient “cities” at Chaco Canyon I was naturally amazed, as most visitors are. But I wondered: a) did anyone actually live there, or, b) who got to live there as the “cities” are actually quite small compared to the population. Now at Mesa Verde it really does seem that these structures were mostly dwellings but at Chaco (the same ancestral people at an earlier site before migrating, for unknown reasons, to Mesa Verde) I thought “banks” and also “monuments”. That place looked like a mixture of New York City and Washington. The rooms were way too small to live in but a great size for storing valuables. And in fact, at both sites food was stored, often in hidden sites (not the obvious cliff dwellings) but clearly these people were afraid of something and wanted a defensible location.
But it was just for the 1%, probably the politicians and priests, as the “common” people were stuck living on the mesa itself and farming their squash and corn and beans and probably surrendering a bunch of that for the rich people who had the luxury condos. Now the rangers and anthropologists don’t necessarily provide that story but they don’t contradict it either.
But whatever it was we can visit (do Chaco too) and wonder at what their life was like, but also why this “civilization” mostly disappeared. The general belief is resource depletion, which is a lesson for us, of course one we won’t pay any attention to, since “sustainability” is such an obvious hoax (right, maybe for the 0.1%). So go visit places like this to learn from the past.