Mesa Verde

Cortez, Colorado

Cortez is the closest bigger town (one with grocery stores, fuel, etc…) to the Four Corners area, and it’s also the closest town to Mesa Verde National Park.


Mesa Verde is home to more than 600 cliff dwellings. During the summer season, visitors can tour several of them with guides. Only one or two were offered for guided tours during our visit.

We opted to tour Spruce Tree House on our own. It is the third largest and best preserved cliff dwelling in the park.

We hiked down to the dwelling on a steep paved path.

As we walked down the path, we noticed small sections of bricked areas. In the middle of this picture you’ll see a wall of rocks just above the tree line. These were storage areas for grains and other supplies.


Here’s a diagram of the entire dwelling which housed  60-90 people–about 19 households.

mesaverde7The dwelling was two stories tall in most places, and three stories in others. What looked like windows to  us are actually doors.


See the ledge around large round area in the picture below with the logs sticking up?


That’s the top of a kiva, a room used for religious rituals. All kivas are built virtually the same with six upright pillars, a firepit with a stone deflector and ventilation system, benches, and small openings for storage.

Visitors to the Spruce Tree House can climb down a ladder and sit in a reconstructed kiva. We climbed down and took a few pictures.

This shows one of the six pillars spaced evenly around the kiva walls.


Here’s a picture of the ladder (well worn by thousands of park visitors) with the fire ventilation system in the background. The system draws outside air and causes the smoke to rise out through the ladder opening.


This is a picture of the kiva roof. It was reconstructed based on archaeologists’ findings of existing kivas.

1025141152While the roof in this kiva was reconstructed with new wood, the wood shown in the picture below is original. Amazing considering that the dwelling was used between 1200 and 1280 A.D.

1025141153There were other dwellings in the park. The one below shows a pithouse which was dug into the ground and covered with a roof and walls.  These predated the cliff houses.



Back to the Spruce Tree House.

Here’s a picture of Rich standing next to a door so you can see how short the door is. I asked a guide about the natives’ height thinking that maybe the people were very short. I was wrong… She said that the men were about 5’6″ and the women about 5′.


A view of the house from the hike down to it. 1025141202

The natives farmed the ground above the dwelling to raise their crops of corn, beans, and squash.


A cross section of the end of the house showing the utilization of rock and brick.

1025141142Mesa Verde was an amazing park to visit!

2 thoughts on “Mesa Verde”

  1. Will leave this up on the laptop this morning so Mike can check it out. It is one of the places we hope to visit next year too.

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