The “four corners” region feels familiar. The crumbly mountains, the scrub brush, the cube-shaped houses: it brings back good memories of Oman! And just like on Jebel Shams, you can find the remains of old cliff dwellings here. The famous ones are at Mesa Verde National Park. We had to check it out.
The cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde are much older than the ones in Oman, though. They were made of sandstone blocks between 1200 and 1300 AD by Native American “Pueblo” people. They abandoned the dwellings soon after, but no one knows why.
The park is popular and you have to join a ranger-guided tour to visit many of the sites. So we booked two back-to-back tours on the Chapin Mesa side of the park.
The Balcony House
The first tour was at the Balcony House. It was described as an “adventurous” hike, because you have to climb up two ladders and crawl through a tunnel. They even have a replica of the tunnel in the visitor center so you can test out your dimensions.
The climbing and crawling was cool, but our favorite part was our guide, David Nighteagle. He was really funny. One guy in our tour group wouldn’t stop talking and David lovingly threatened to push him over the edge of the cliff.
At the end of the tour, we gathered around around a kiva, an underground circular structure believed to have had practical, social and religious purposes. David pointed out the sipapu, a small but deep hole in the floor of the kiva which connected the Pueblo people to the spirit world.
David tood everyone he wanted to dedicate a song to the spirits. He took out a wooden flute about 30 inches long, the end of which was shaped like an eagle. He had carved it himself.
And for a minute, everyone was silent while he played. It was rhythmic and dramatic, going from soft to loud. It was emotional. This was real American music. I cried, and Edd says he definitely didn’t cry but felt so sad that he could cry.
That was a good tour.
The Cliff Palace
This is one of the biggest cliff dwellings in the park, and apparently the most photographed. It was impressive, but they don’t let you go inside any of the rooms. Boo.
There were similarities between the old houses in Mesa Verde and in Oman: the stones, the overhanging cliffs. But these are well-preserved, even after being mysteriously abandoned hundreds of years ago. And then you have really sophisticated structures like the kiva that really help you imagine how people survived here.
After the tours, we stopped at a few lookout points and excavation sites to see Pueblo pit houses, which are older than the cliff houses.
And a really special gift from the NPS at Mesa Verde was the free showers next to the campground. Whoa, they were hot and the pressure was great. I’d say we ended Colorado on a high.
Ha, just realized that’s a pretty good pun.