Mesa Verde is an incredibly unique place to visit.
Each time I go (this is my 3rd time) I leave more impressed by how these people lived.
A Hard Life
Our parents like to tell us how tough life was for them back in the day, and I think most of us have heard some version of how they had to walk 5 miles to school uphill both ways in the ________ (insert inclement weather here – snow, rain, hail…). But even they don’t know how good they had it.
In most modern places today you can turn on the tap and have instant access to water. The ancestral Puebloans of Mesa Verde didn’t have this luxury. Just as one tiny example, these people had to walk for miles just to collect water. Then they’d not only have to carry it back, they’d also have to scale the rock walls using only the tiny finger-and-toe holds to haul the water up to the dwelling itself. Amazing? Um, yeah. And perhaps even more amazing? This was the women’s job.
Cliff Palace Tour
There are a few different dwellings you need to be on a tour to see and Cliff Palace is one of them. It’s the biggest one and totally worth the minimal additional charge ($3 per person as I write this). If the tour’s operating (and sometimes certain tours are not depending on the time of year, etc.) don’t miss it.
The guided tour is led by a ranger and lasts about an hour. During the tour, you’ll descend down steep rock steps, climb 5 wooden ladders and walk about 1/4 mile overall.
You meet the ranger and your tour group at the Cliff Palace Overlook. Here’s the view of the dwelling and surrounding valley from the lookout. You can see how difficult it would be to lug water up from the valley floor to the dwelling. Ugh.
A closer view of Cliff Palace.
Before you get to actually walk among the ruins, you’ll wait in an area just next to them while your ranger tells you all about life in the pueblo. You can just look at the image below and imagine a bustling scene of about 100 people just trying to survive in this challenging environment.
I don’t know why our ranger didn’t point this out to the people on the tour, but there’s a tower where you can stick your head into a hole and peer up towards the ceiling. On the rock wall above, you can make out some original pictographs (according to our ranger). I think that’s pretty amazing stuff seeing drawings from about 1000 years ago.
Once you leave the site, you’ll walk up these stone-carved steps and then climb a few different wooden ladders. It’s a tight squeeze in places!
At the top of the ladders you can gaze across the canyon to where you began the tour. You can just make out the tiny people grouped at the top of the rock there on the top left and also see the cliff dwellings down in the bottom right.
To Go or No
Most definitely try to make a trip out to Mesa Verde and while you’re there, don’t miss Cliff Palace.
Here’s a map of my favorite sights at Mesa Verde:
View Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado in a larger map