What we are doing, and why we're doing it!

Florida Keys - 4/15/05

Orlando - 12/6/05

Pelleys - 11/25/05

Charleston - 11/18/05

Cape Hatteras - 11/12/05

Williamsburg - 11/7/05

Monticello - 11/5/05

Mount Vernon - 11/4/05

Washington DC - 10/9/05

Gettysburg - 10/6/05

Valley Forge - 9/20/05

Philadelphia - 9/16/05

New York - 9/14/05

Boston - 9/9/05

New England - 9/7/05

Canadian Maritimes - 8/28/05

Quebec - 8/22/05

Montreal - 8/19/05

Ottawa - 8/16/05

Toronto - 8/11/05

Niagara Falls - 8/9/05

Chicago - 8/1/05

Wisconsin - 7/27/05

Smoky Mountains - 7/18/05

Nashville - 7/12/05

Memphis - 7/1/05

St. Louis - 6/28/05

Dakotas - 6/22/05

Canadian Plains - 6/14/05

Canadian Rockies - 6/7/05

Dinosaur N.P. - 5/26/05

Yellowstone - 5/24/05

Moab - 5/22/05

Arches N. P. - 5/20/05

Natural Bridges N.P. - 5/12/05

Four Corners - 5/11/05

Mesa Verde N.P. - 5/10/05

Durango CO. - 5/7/05

Acoma & Chaco N.P. - 5/6/05

Grand Canyon - 5/1/05

Petrified Forest N.P. - 4/30/05

Meteor Crater AZ - 4/29/05

Valley of Fire NV - 4/15/05

Route 66 CA & AZ - 4/10/05

HWY 395 CA - 3/17/05

Seattle & Mt. St. Helens - 3/5/05

Vancouver Island - 2/20/05

Oregon to Vancouver - 2/2/05


Lay your hand palm down on the table, fingers spread slightly apart. Imagine that the back of your hand is a high, flat topped desert mesa. The spaces between your fingers are deep canyons predominantly running north/south. The canyons are carved through layers of sandstone and shale leaving shear, steep cliff walls. Water seeping through the sandstone is blocked by the shale where it accumulates until it seeps out of the canyon cliffs. Time and modest water seeps conspire to flake off huge chunks of the cliff walls above the water to create alcoves. The mesa, canyons, cliffs and alcoves attracted a thriving community of ancient Puebloan people a thousand years ago in what is now called Mesa Verde National Park. These are the same peoples from Chaco Cultural National Historical Park and the predecessors of the Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Acomans, etc.

A millennia ago the pinion trees, sage, yucca and cactus that cover Mesa Verde were interspersed with gardens of corn, squash, beans. The ancient Puebloans became expert at dry farming these crops. Family pit houses dotted the mesa top. The gardens have vanished without a trace and the only evidence of pit houses are in dormant archeological digs. There is, however, a remnant of this culture that has survived the ages. There are buildings still standing in the natural alcoves in the cliffs. In one lookout, there are 9 ancient building sites visible!

The Mesa Verde cliff houses are not humble wood and mud lean-tos. They are grand complexes featuring plazas, towers and up to four story tall structures. Unlike the buildings at Chaco, these were places where people co-habitated in most likely hundreds per complex.

Visiting the cliff houses was an adventure in itself. The easy one, Cliff Palace, involved lots of stairs sometimes cut into the rock faces with rock cut hand holds, several 8-10 foot ladders and a narrow ascent through a narrow crevasse. The challenging tour of Balcony House involved a couple 8-10 foot ladders and a 30ft. tall ladder to access the alcove. Egress was through a small stone tunnel followed by another ladder and stairs! We loved it but the ladders were enough to get the blood rushing and guts twisting for those nervous of heights.

Given the inherent hazards in exploring cliff dwellings, access to these two particular complexes, Cliff Palace and Balcony House and is by ranger-led small fee reserved tours only. Despite having a crowd of people around, it was well worth it to have a park ranger to tell us about the ruins and to answer questions. Many interesting hypothese have been put forward by scientists in terms of the uses of different parts of the complexes and the social relationships between them. Of course, the mysterious demise of this culture sprouts endless theories but again, as in their contemporaries in Chaco. They appear to have simply left -- migrating south, southwest and southeast. As we had been told by one Ranger in Chaco and then again here in Mesa Verde, it was simply time to go.

As we left the park, we were treated to the sight of wildlife that has only recently taken up residence on the mesa. Right next to the road was a herd of magnificent wild horses. Although they lived in the wild and were unbroken they seemed completely unconcerned when we approached to get photos. No doubt they knew from experience that all it took was a flick of their lean, muscular bodies to gallop off in the opposite direction and outrun these pesky, persistent two legged creatures.