Life on the edge of a cliff – Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (part II)

Most people don’t know this about me, but one of my majors in college was anthropology. Granted, it was anthropology with a biological focus. But I still took all of the introductory classes, including archaeology. In fact, I initially went into the field of anthropology because I wanted to be an archaeologist. Obviously I changed my mind – long story – but I still find archaeology to be incredibly cool!

So for me, Mesa Verde was a very interesting place to visit. Not only could I see all of the old dwellings, but I could read the interpretive signs and begin to see how many of the things I learned in class had been employed here by archaeologists as they aimed to understand the lives of the people who used to live in Mesa Verde.

Some of it will obviously always be guesses and approximations. But over the years, archaeologists have been able to formulate some pretty plausible explanations for what life was like for these ancient peoples. And what better place to understand this than at Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America? Continue reading

Green Table – Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (part I)

Mesa Verde – Spanish for “green table” – probably conjures up images of a giant plateau topped with luscious greenery. Or a dinner table covered with a green tablecloth. Depends on your thought process, I suppose. Or your level of hunger. Clearly I’m hungry as I’m writing this. Maybe I should go eat lunch first.

Okay, lunch eaten.

As I was saying, “mesa verde” = “green table” which in this case obviously refers to a giant green plateau. From a distance, that is in fact what Mesa Verde looks like. But Mesa Verde is so much more than just a large, green plateau. Mesa Verde is a place where thousands of years of history is preserved in the cliff faces and stone remains left behind by ancient peoples. Because of this, Mesa Verde has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park contains over 4,000 well-preserved archaeological sites, including the largest known cliff dwelling in North America. Continue reading

The place where 4 states don’t quite meet

After Canyonlands National Park, our next destination was Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado. The two parks are only about 3 hours apart by car, but we drove at least an hour out of our way (through the absolute middle of nowhere) for the sole purpose of visiting Four Corners Monument. Here, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico meet, making this the only location in the US that 4 states come together. The monument itself is overseen by the Navajo Nation, as it also marks the border between the Navajo and Ute Indian reservations. Continue reading

Whales, Ruins, and…a Meteorite Crater? – Canyonlands National Park, Utah (part II)

Okay, so obviously we didn’t see whales in Utah. But we did climb a giant rock that was somewhat shaped like one.

For day #2 in Canyonlands, we headed back into the Island in the Sky district, this time keeping right at the fork in the road. We followed the right fork all the way to the end, parking at the trailhead for Upheaval Dome. Upheaval Dome is probably the most unique geologic feature in Canyonlands. Or anywhere, really. I’ve never encountered anything else quite like it. It gives the appearance of a giant mound of sand inside a large crater. However, the rocks visible at Upheaval Dome are from the same rock layer that, elsewhere in the park, lies nearly a mile underground. Somehow, those rocks ended up at the surface. There two possible explanations for how this happened. Continue reading