Our visit to Mesa Verde National Park was the perfect setting to kick off our history curriculum. This year we are exploring American history before 1865. Learning about the Ancestral Pueblo was an important reminder that the “New World” to exploring Europeans was anything but new.
A special note to full-time RV families: Trailers and tow vehicles are NOT allowed on the 2-lane road into Mesa Verde National Park. A trailer parking area is provided to unhitch before making the 22 mile drive to the Spruce Tree House and Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. (RV parking is available for Class A motor homes without tow vehicles at Chapin Mesa Museum.) The best selection of tour times will be available at the Visitor and Research Center. There is plenty of parking available to run into the Visitor Center to purchase your tickets before you proceed to the Trailer Parking Area. Also, if you decided to park before your Mesa Verde adventure the entrance to the park is 10 miles from Cortez, CO or 36 miles from Durango, CO. We HIGHLY recommend Alpen Rose RV Park in Durango!
Around 500 AD people living in the Four Corners region decided to establish themselves on the Mesa Verde. For nearly 700 years they thrived, eventually building stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyons.
“The cliff dwellings speak eloquently of a people adept at building, artistic in their crafts, and skillful at making a living from a difficult land. The structures are evidence of a society that, over centuries, accumulated skills and traditions and passed them on from generation to generation. By the Classic Pueblo Period, from 1150 to 1300, Ancestral Pueblo people were heirs of a vigorous civilization, whose accomplishments in community living and the arts must be ranked among the finest expressions of human culture in North America.” (National Park Service – U.S. Dept of the Interior)
The slower travel time getting from Point A to Point B has been just one aspect to our humbling full-time RV learning curve. In these greenie days of travel we relied too heavily on our cell phone GPS. Sketchy cell service + lost GPS signals = NO BUENO. You try making a U-turn with a 40 foot trailer on a 2-lane road! At this point we didn't even own a proper Road Atlas. Wow! G.R.E.E.N. or S.T.U.P.I.D. - you decide!
Due to unforseen delays when we finally arrived at the Visitor and Research Center we explained to the Ranger our smaller time frame. She outlined the perfect itinerary. Our first stop was to take the self-guided tour of Spruce Tree House, the park's best-preserved cliff dwelling. Below the vast Mesa top, the preserved detail of this ancient society was breathtaking!
Smoke-blackened walls and ceilings are reminders of the harsh winters the Ancestral Pueblo endured season after season.
We had to jet from Spruce Tree House to make our time for the guided tour of the Cliff Palace. The Cliff Palace is Mesa Verde's largest cliff dwelling. Cache DID NOT understand. He thought we were leaving for good and going to torture him with another long road trip. We finally convinced him that the Spruce Tree House wasn't all there was to see at the Mesa Verde. Cache was glad he decided to trust us because the Cliff Palace tour was AWESOME. Uneven stone steps and climbing 4 ladders was right up his alley.
Many lived in compact villages with kivas or courtyards. The kiva is a round chamber (usually underground) built in almost every village or home site. Entrance was by ladder through a hole in the center of the roof. It is believed the kiva was used for a combination of social and religious purposes. In modern Pueblo communities the kiva is still an important ceremonial structure.
By about 1300 the Mesa Verde had been deserted. There a lot of theories about the purpose of their migration - drought, crop failures, social and political problems. When the cliff dwellers left the Mesa Verde they joined other Ancestral Pueblo people moving into today's Arizona and New Mexico.
When we make our journey back West I can't wait to visit the Acoma Indian Reservation. The Acoma are a Native American Pueblo people who live approximately 60 miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Acoma people trace some of their ancestry to the Ancestral Pueblo of the Mesa Verde in Colorado. The Acoma Pueblo have occupied their current mesa for over 800 years - making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States!