Hanging with the Cliff Hangers

In front of the Long House, Wetherhill Mesa, Mesa Verde

August 18

Mesa Verde

View across the valley of Cliff Dwelling, Mesa Verde, Colorado

When I told people back east I was going to Durango, the first thing they said was:

Oh you are going to Mesa Verde.

Well actually we were going to visit Wendy and Daniel in Durango- but maybe this Mesa Verde was something to check out.

Growing up, and even when I taught elementary school – studying Native Americans meant studying the different geographic groups, like Native Americans of the Northeastern forests,- which pictured a long house beneath tall pine trees or Plains Native Americans with teepees featured on a rolling plain. The picture for the Native Americans of the Southwest was always a picture of stacked Adobe dwellings built into a cliff. I didn’t know it then, but the prime example of these cliff dwellings are in Mesa Verde National Park.

Mesa Verde is exactly that, a mesa or chopped- off mountain. We paid our tolls at the entrance to the park and the drove another thirty minutes up a winding road to the Visitors Center. There Wendy and Eric purchased tickets to the afternoon tour of one of the dwellings while I shared my binoculars with a young man whose father told me his family used to run the concessions at the park. He remembered fondly climbing all up and down and through the dwellings which are now highly controlled by the Parks Department. I know the feeling, whether it was charging through Chichenitza with a dime store flashlight illuminating the scorpions, or scrambling along the walls of Fort Totten I understand the communal responsibility of preserving sites for all but the libertarian in me often feels WTF- let me loose -it was more fun the old way.

Oh and what we were looking at was Shiprock- visible through the haze forty five miles away.

View of Ship Rock from 45 Miles away, Far View Visitor's Center Mesa Verde Coloradop

We spent the morning popping in and out of the car as we did the self guided auto tour of Mesa Top Loop. There we saw a variety of dwellings ranging from the small pit houses we had seen at both Chaco and Chimney Rock, to the our first glance of the elaborate cliff houses built into the canyon walls We joined a tour where a a pleasant elderly man was giving yet another explanation of the Kiva. After explaining the circular walls, the log roofs and the sipapu the whole in ground related to the creation myth, the guide explained that the early archaeologists believed the kiva was the domain of males only. Now- the people who built these settlements had no written language, and the connection with the present day Pueblo is historical at best, so the rationale for this conclusion needs some explaining.

The first archaeologists to explore these kivas,” the guide explained, “were men So they looked around while digging out these sites and saw only males inside the kivas. They concluded, that kivas must be for men only.”

A view of the circular kiva structures at Mesa Verde, Colorado

He then went on to explain that the kivas on sub-zero winter night, might reach a toasty 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit, and he couldn’t see the woman standing for being left out in the cold. Especially if there were to be new ancestral Pueblans nine months later. (So if they wanted to get laid the male occupants had to let the woman in- I suppose that was his theory in a nutshell)

View across the valley of Cliff Dwelling, Mesa Verde, Colorado

We got our first views of the several groups of cliff dwellings nestled into depressions in the canyon walls across from us.

Archaeological at work, Mesa Verde, Colorado

We also got a binocular- aided view of a team of archaeologists working on an inner wall. They made quite a site with there matching cross -suspendered backs lined up in a row. The supervisor, though, was not among him. He sat on a ledge of the side working on a laptop. Oh the joy of a good pair of binoculars.

After another picnic lunch and a long winding drive up Wetherhill Mesa we arrived at the meeting point for the afternoon tour of the Long House, another site in the more remote part of the park There a different ranger guided us down into the site. She gave us her version of the kivas and returned to the theory that it was a male only “club” Earlier in the day I overheard a discussion between a park ranger and a visitor. The visitor was interested in getting at least a seasonal position as a ranger at the park. Among other things, the young woman ranger explained their training included being given library books to read, to provide them with the information to share with the visitors. Apparently there is no definitive version about what the Kivas were actually used for and what any particular group receives from a ranger depends on what library book they read and perhaps how much they think about getting laid.

Got caught in a thunderstorm on the way up the mountain. Wendy and I huddled under my umbrella. Is good to have friends for forty years.

Long House Wetherhill Mesa, Mesa Verde

Dinner some restaurant with Cypress in its name.


Daniel climbing out of an underground room, Long House, Mesa Verde

Old friends in the rain

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