You wouldn't believe all we learned today about what we DON'T know. We don't know why the pueblo people came to Mesa Verde, we don't know why they chose, after centuries of living on top of the Mesa, to move to the alcoves under the Mesa and build dwellings there. And that's only the beginning! We don't know why, after barely more than 100 years there, they left abruptly, leaving stores of food and an unfinished temple behind. We aren't sure about why they built the dwellings the way they did, or what all the towers and rooms were used for (communication? defense? status? religion?) We also can only extract a minimum of information about the people themselves from what they left behind, leaving us in the dark about much of their daily lives, religion, family life, and even population size. Of course, there are countless theories about each mystery, and some information can be correlated from tradition and practices of native peoples from the area today, but so little is known for certain that it pretty much became a joke between the three of us by the end of the day. It is kinda neat that even with all archeology and scientific research can tell us, there still are things that we may never find out about this area.
The day was just so full of one fascinating sight after another. All day long the views of the mesas, the views FROM the mesas, and the sky provided a continual, beautiful backdrop to everything else that we got to see and learn. On our way up to the Mesa in the morning, Linda spotted a coyote trotting alongside the road. We stopped the car to get a good photo of him, and he just kept trotting along without the least regard to us.
We spent some time in the visitor center, and then went on guided tours of 2 different sets of ruins: Cliff Palace and Balcony House. You could kind of tell that the guides had been giving the same tours all summer long, so while we definitely found them worthwhile, we had more fun pinging them with all sorts of questions after each tour. Then they came alive with their own interest in the history - the second guide stayed over an hour answering questions and telling us stories. It was neat to make our way through the ruins using ladders and (widened) stone-carved hand and toe holds. We were often reminded not to touch anything, but it really was just cool to a stick our heads into rooms and to look down into kivas and imagine what it must have been like to live there. In spite of the 800 years that have elapsed since people dwelt here,
there are still places where painted designs can still be seen in the plaster, and at one point there are petroglyphs carved into the cliff face.
We ended the day with a self guided tour around the top of the Mesa, where we could see even more ruins - both of the cliff dwellings and of the pit houses where folks lived prior to the cliff houses. As we were leaving the park we saw FOUR huge mule deer bucks, right by the side of the road. I've never seen anything like it. We got heaps of pictures on Tom's camera, so we're hoping they turn out. After a thrilling race against the gas tank all the way back to Durango, we decided to call it a day. Tomorrow? Sand dunes!
(and don't worry; I'm not actually touching the cliff face!)