Friday, May 17, 2013

Fieldwork Friday: Mesa Verde road trip

The view from Park Point, Mesa Verde National Park

Summer almost always escapes before I get a chance to appreciate it. Exhibitions, workshops, and contract projects fill the calendar May through September, and when October arrives I feel like a kid who spent their summer vacation with a fever and only got better when school started.

Thank goodness, then, that we managed to squeak in a quick camping trip earlier this week. Mesa Verde National Park is about 4.5 hours from Salida, and centuries away from my busy daily life. I hadn't been there in at least 15 years, so it was time to get acquainted again.


Spring has been slow to arrive there, too, although leaf-out and bloom seemed to accelerate through the three days we were in the park. I love Mesa Verde for its dramatic landscape and wildlife (we saw snakes and lizards and bats, lots of birds, and heard coyotes) and for the opportunity to contemplate the long history of our continent's native peoples.

Cliff Palace. Guided tours take visitors through the remains of this
spectacular construction. Let's just say one begins the tour on the mesa top
on the left side, climbs down to explore the ruins, and climbs out via
ladders and narrow stone steps on the right. How do I always end up
in places that challenge my discomfort with heights?

Centuries before Europeans arrived in North America, the ancestors of today's pueblo peoples settled in the Four Corners region, where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona meet. Around 550 CE the Ancestral Puebloans lived and farmed on the area's mesa tops, eventually moving into the alcoves of the canyon walls below around 1200. By 1300 they had abandoned all of it and the area was deserted. Why they moved from the mesas to the cliffs and then dispersed is a matter of mystery, study, and speculation.

Coming into Cliff Palace.
Exploring the site.

I enjoy turning puzzles like this around in my head, coming away with questions rather than answers, and with a renewed sense of awe. A few days of watching and wondering are my kind of reality check.

Of course really good sunsets help, too.


  1. I'm not good with heights either. Oh, no! But for this? I think I could give it a try.
    Maybe I'll practise on a NY skyscraper in a few weeks...

  2. gorgeous place :) would love to explore there and soak up the history

  3. 'Coming into the cliff palace' photo. There could be a good print in that- all those sharp angles and deep shadows against the light.