Anasazi Heritage Center and Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde-22

Square Tower House

Today we drove to Cortez, and then north to the Anasazi Heritage Center, located in Dolores, which is a museum of the Ancestral Pueblo culture and other Native cultures in the Four Corners region. The Heritage Center, in operation since 1988, is a fabulous museum of millions of artifacts and displays showing the life of the native pueblo people, who resided in permanent communities called pueblos and grew their own crops. We saw many artifacts of tools for hunting and cooking, pottery, basketry in many colors, and a loom where one could try their skill at weaving. There were two pueblo ruins outside the Heritage Center, the Dominguez Pueblo, an example of an independent family homes outside the main pueblo, and the Escalante Pueblo constructed in 1120 to 1130 AD and made of groupings of stone walled family and common rooms, and a kiva. There was more to see at this pueblo, and it had great views of the Great Sage Plains and the McFee Reservoir. It was well worth the walk up the hill to view this ruin and see the views, but we had to leave and continue on our quest for more ruins at Mesa Verde. Click on thumbnail to view

We had to come back to Mesa Verde (meaning “green table”) and explore all the wonderful buildings of stone in the sheltered alcoves of canyon walls. However, once again we were to early for the tours to Cliff Palace and Long House, (opens on May 15th) and we did Balcony House last year. So instead we viewed them from above and drove to all the sites. Our first stop was the Montezuma Valley Overlook and the Park Point Overlook, 8427’, the highest point in Mesa Verde and there is still a Fire Tower at the top, and commands 360-degree views of the park. We stopped at the Far View ruins where nearly 50 villages have been identified within a half square mile area.

There are several major excavated sites, including Far View House and Pipe Shrine House, Coyote Village, Megalithic House and Far View Tower. Far View House, AD 1100 – 1300, is a very large size open pueblo with four circular kivas enclosed within the walls and a fifth is outside the walls. Close by is Pipe Shrine House, AD 900 – 1300, smaller yet with 20 rooms on the ground floor, with single-course masonry and double-coursed stone walls. We were able to walk through one entryway into a fairly large kiva, where dozens of decorated clay pipes were excavated in 1922, and thus the name. Coyote Village excavated in 1968 and 1969, they found 30 ground-floor rooms, five kivas, and a circular tower. Megalithic House and Far View Tower, AD 1200, were the last two ruins we explored and then went onto the 6 mile Mesa Top Loop drive. Click on thumbnail to view

The best site here was the Square Tower House, AD 1200 – 1300, a beautiful cliff dwelling built in an alcove in the upper walls of Navajo Canyon. It’s an amazing four-story-high structure still standing against the curving back wall of the alcove. We could only view the Tower from the Overlook, and about 60 of the original 80 rooms of Square Tower House remain. It was along way down to the spring below the alcove and the natives used hand-and-toe holds pecked into the cliff walls to get to the water source. We stopped at several pit houses and villages that were protected under a large roof and surrounded by a fence so visitors couldn’t get inside the ruins. Our last stop on this loop was the Sun Point, one of the best views in Mesa Verde, where we saw a dozen cliff dwellings, Cliff Palace, set in alcoves up in Cliff and Fewkes Canyon and Sun Temple across the canyon. Sun Temple was excavated in 1915 by Dr Fewkes, and the four-foot-thick walls were double-coursed and filled with a rubble core.

We saved the best for last, the crown jewel of Mesa Verde and an architectural masterpiece by any standard, Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. We walked to the overlook and viewed the collection of rooms, plazas, and towers that fit perfectly into the sweeping sandstone overhang that has protected it, unpeopled and silent, since the 13th century. We were able to walk down into these structures in Dec 1989, and even though we can’t get down to see them today we are still in awe of this “magnificent city”.