09-14-2011, 08:07 PM
Joined: Mar 2010
Location: Toronto, ON
From Silverton I continued on Hwy 550 to Durango then rode on to Cortez for the awe-inspiring Mesa Verde National Park, home of the mysterious cliff dwellings.
I had planned to just pitch my tent somewhere nearby and "rough it" in the back-country, but in Mesa Verde camping is restricted to an improved campground, complete with hot showers, a general store, all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast, and yes, even free wi-fi!
Camping at Mesa Verde
The campground is well within the park boundary, but a ranger told me the that the cliff dwellings are a further 1-hour drive inside the park, which gives some sense as to the size and scale of Mesa Verde.
At night the temperature dropped to about 48 F inside the tent. I was still quite comfortable in my sleeping bag, and I don't think it will be much colder when I get to the Andes mountains later this year, so that's good news… somewhere down the road I can get rid of some of the bulkier/warmer clothing I have with me.
In the morning, some visitors strolled through my camp site.
Don't mind me, just passing by
Noticing you, noticing me…
I had signed up for one of the ranger-led tours so after breakfast I headed to Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America. Deeper inside the park, the view was shocking -- there were burnt trees as far as my eyes could see.
Burnt trees everywhere
Due to drought conditions, the 50,000 acres within the park are quite susceptible to wildfires. Between 1996 and 2003 alone, wildfires consumed over 50% of the park! Almost all of the fires are caused by lightning strikes: an average of 19 fires each and every year are caused by lightning.
I finally reached the cliff dwellings, and they were truly mind-boggling. Some of these cliffs seem totally inaccessible yet the ancient culture who lived here managed to build entire villages on very steep terrain. Cliff Palace alone has over 150 rooms.
I joined the tour and a ranger gave us some background of the dwellings. The dwellings were home to ancient Puebloans (Anasazi Indians) who moved from the mesa tops to the cliffs in late 1190s. Yet within a few generations, the Puebloans started to migrate south, and by 1300 the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde were abandoned. Historians are not completely clear why the Puebloans abandoned their homeland.
No leaving home after a few beers...
Inside a Kiva, used for religious rituals
Although the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings are well preserved, they might not be as accessible to us forever. Sections of the dwellings -- including those at Cliff Palace -- are slowly crumbling, succumbing to the effects of time and erosion, and might already be beyond our capacity to save. Massive wildfires have also caused irreparable damage some of the archeological sites. One can only hope that the treasure that is Mesa Verde can be enjoyed by generations to come.
Prominent cracks can be seen on some artefacts
Next, I rode on to Arizona.