Freedom and Liberty

Freedom and Liberty
I travel in Freedom but sleep in the security of Liberty (not only on the road, but in this amazing country of ours)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mesa Verde and Anasazi is a bad word?

Location: Mesa Verde KOA (el. 6,100 ft); Cortez, Colorado

(click pictures to enlarge)
(all pictures taken with Nokia Lumia 929 Cell Phone)

I arrived in Cortez, Colorado last Thursday afternoon. The trip from Moab was a short one and mostly uneventful. The reason for coming here was to visit the Mesa Verde National Park. 

This part of Colorado has been inhabited for thousands of years. To many people, me included, the people that lived here long ago were called the Anasazi. This word began to be used by a few archaeologists back in the 1950's and the word stuck. I always thought it meant "ancient ones" but I was wrong. It means "ancient enemy" or "ancient strangers". The local Indian tribes in this area look upon the word as an insulting slur and do not like it. Recently, it is being replaced with the word "Pueblo" with an assortment of adjectives in front such as Ancient Pueblo or Modern Pueblo. The word pueblo means "small village or villagers". It was applicable to these people since they were farmers who remained in one place, a village, for centuries. It is the opposite of the nomadic hunter/gathers that moved constantly.

So, what is so special about some people who lived and farmed this area a thousand years ago? Well, it is what they left behind and why they left. The mesa where they lived is about 1,500 feet above the wide ranging Colorado Plateau. 

Between 500 AD and 900 AD, the Ancient Pueblo's lived in what is called a "pit house". It is built by digging a hole in the ground big enough for your family and putting a roof over it. The roof was built out of timbers, brush and mud. You entered the house from a hole in middle of the roof and then climbed down a ladder. Sometimes the roof was pitched and other times it was level with the ground. The entrance hole also served as a chimney to allow smoke to leave.

Between 900 AD and 1200 AD, most of these people moved out of the pit-houses and into above ground buildings. These buildings were very similar to modern houses. The walls were built out of sandstone blocks that were shaped into building blocks by using harder stones as chipping hammers. These people were farmers and raised many crops and stored them in the pit-houses and other buildings. Although it was a hard life, it was pretty good. 

There are a couple mysteries surrounding these people. The first one was why they would move from their above ground houses into houses on and in the cliffs of the mesa. They did this between 1200 AD and 1300 AD. They continued to farm the same locations but they built their block houses inside alcoves or on shelves of the cliff. They had lived outside in the open, either under or on top of the ground for 700 years but for some reason, they abandoned those places and built new homes in the cliffs. The new cliff homes were very close to their old homes so they didn't move far. There are many theories for this move such as weather and enemies. Obviously, the cliffs provided lots of protection from both of those problems. I wonder why it took them so long to figure that out, or what happened to force them to change. I can understand why they lived in some of the large alcoves because they provided protection from the wind, rain and enemies and wasn't too difficult to come and go because they were close to the bottom of the valley. However, I do not understand why some would live on the side of the cliffs and have to climb high ladders or ropes to get to their homes. It's a puzzle. Maybe some were just Hippies and wanted to live differently.

The second mystery is why they suddenly abandoned everything and moved away. One of the best accepted theories is a weather change, but that may just be because of the current emphasis on climate change. I'm not sure I buy that since surely they had seen all kinds of climate change in the previous 700 years. But it could be that simple. Perhaps a few moved farther south and returned to say that the winters were milder and the planting season longer. Next thing you know a drought or bad winter comes along and they are all talking about moving south. Not much different from the modern day Yankees moving south to avoid the weather up north. 

To put it in Time Perspective; during the period between 1200 and 1300 in which these people were living in the cliffs and farming the mesa, the following was going on elsewhere in the world:
1) Genghis and Kublai Khan were conquering the territories of modern day China, Persia, Russia, Poland and Germany.
2) Marco Polo traveled from Venice, Italy to China and returned 17 years later with tales of the far east.
3) King John of England was signing the Magna Carta.
4) The Inquisition began and continued on and off for the next 500 years.

Whatever the reason for moving, their homes are still here for us to see and wonder about. That is what brought me here and lots of other tourists.
I saw this on my way from Moab to Cortez. It is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Once you go past the rock outcropping on the left, the "hole in the rock" is a juke-joint. 

Might as well catch a picture of an arch while passing it on the side of the road. 

This is the view mainly of extreme eastern Utah.

Once in Colorado there is lots of farming acreage in the Colorado Plateau area. 

My campsite in Cortez, Colorado.

There are two Teepees in this campground that are rented out like cabins. When the management was told that teepees were more in the Great Plains rather than the southwest, their answer was,,,,"And your point is?". I shook my head and walked away.

A rancher was moving cattle through downtown Cortez. I would guess maybe 200 head. They moved them down the road about 5 miles.

Heading to Mesa Verde National Park. The flat top mountain in the center is the mesa.

Beginning the climb up to the top. It is an increase in elevation of about 1,500 feet.

Nice road all the way. It took me two days to see everything I wanted to see. There was rain on the second day.

The view from one of the vistas

You could have a picnic at one of the picnic tables on the right. Great view while eating.

More great view. 

A panoramic view

It is 20 miles from the point where you enter the park until you get to the majority of the cliff dwellings. 

You can see the many houses/building under the alcove. The alcove provided shelter from the wind, rain and enemies. 

Same cliff dwelling but from a perspective to where you can see the mesa top where they farmed.

I found a nice bench in the shade.

Look at the buildings on the ledge above the main buildings in the alcove.

More, top and bottom

Nice one looking almost straight down

One of the many pit-houses they have uncovered. 

This is looking down the valley. The cliff dwellings are on both sides.

This is at the head of the valley. All of the cliff dwellings were within a few miles of this location.
The park was as good as I expected it to be. I enjoyed it very much but the altitude started getting to me some. I was getting a little light headed but it passed once I got a little lower. The Colorado Plateau is in the 6,000 foot elevation range. I think I will be glad when I get a few thousand feet lower, but not sure when that will take place. 

Tomorrow is moving day. I will be heading east about 190 miles and will stay there for only 2 nights. I think I may take a 200 mile round trip from there to see something in New Mexico. I'm not sure yet. We will see.  

Ya'll take care of each other. I'll Cya down the road.     


  1. Loved your pictures. I'm surprised you didn't say anything about the vehicle about to "go over the edge of the cliff" at the top of the "Hole In The Rock"

    1. Hello Betty,
      I was disappointed because I was taken in by it thinking it was a big natural sight but turned out to be just juke joint. Do you know if it has been there long?