When I was growing up, my parents loved to travel and camp and fish. National Forests and National Parks were some of the best places to camp. It was usually pretty primitive camping. No fancy camp sites, with hook-ups for RVs. No fancy bath houses. Just a spot to pitch your tent. If you were lucky, the water faucet (as well as the bathroom) was close to your camp site. Of course, I was a kid. Going a week without a real bath was fun.
My Great Aunt Lavina and I compare our catch, while my Dad fixed the tent flap.
Yes, five of us slept in that tent for a week.
Great Uncle Jim gets his rig ready, while Aunt Lavina and I wait.
Our camp was at Vallecito Lake, outside Durango, CO.
I don't have a lot of photos of those days to share. We had an old Kodak camera that went everywhere with us. Looking back on prints made with that camera, I see my mother...who was the photographer-in-chief...was not too good at focusing. Lots a blurry photos in those little drug store picture sleeves. Of course, today, I'm brilliant. I can see on my digital camera that the shot is blurry, delete, and retake.
One place we went, was very fascinating. Mesa Verde National Park.
Spruce Tree House Circa 1954
Mesa Verde was established as a National Park in 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt. This establishment helped preserve the ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings found there, from being looted and the artifacts removed. The park is in the Four Corners region where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona meet.
Mesa Verde is Spanish for green table. It's situated on a high mesa, or plateau. The people who inhabited the area were farmers, and first lived in houses built on top of the mesa. For some reason, they began to build the cliff dwellings we see today in the crevices of the cliffs below the mesa. Maybe for protection from other tribes or from the elements. I'm not sure anyone knows why. But, this gave us the fascinating cliff dwellings.
It was fun looking at the old photos we took so long ago. My first trip was in 1954, along with my parents and my mother's aunt and uncle. Our campsite at Mesa Verde was right on the edge of the mesa...or so it seemed. My Uncle Jim joked that we better not sleep walk.
The second time I went was with my husband and kids and another family, in 1979.
Dad and I climbing around the ruins.
There are ladders around the ruins themselves to climb, as well.
I think this is Balcony House
The largest cliff dwelling is Cliff Palace. It has 150 rooms, along with about 23 kivas.
Cliff Palace circa 1954
My daughter and I in blue, son in dark blue at Cliff Palace, circa 1979
Another view with my daughter.
The round spaces you see are ruins of kivas. Kiva is a Hopi word for ceremonial room. The kivas at Mesa Verde were probably used much like churches of later times. They are underground rooms which would have had roofs of wooden beams and mud, held up by columns. There would be a hole in the center or the roof for access down a ladder. There would be a small hole in the middle of the floor, known as a sipapu, a symbolic entrance to the underworld. The kivas were also used as gathering places and weaving rooms.
Meredith at Great Stems has some great pictures of Mesa Verde, and the restored kivas at Spruce Tree House.
There are more cliff dwellings and some mesa top sites you can visit. As well as the museum. All interesting places to see.
We tried again in 2002 to make another visit to Mesa Verde, with our son and his family. We didn't get to make that trip. The park was closed due to the many forest fires in the area. With one road in and out of the park, evacuation would be too difficult. Since that time, said son and family have returned and enjoyed the trip.
When there in 1954 and again in 1979, the museum had mummified remains on display. The Puebloans sometimes entombed bodies at the very back of the alcoves where the dwellings were built. In 2006, all Native American remains and relics from their graves were reburied. The ceremony was closed to the public and in an undisclosed location inside the park.
If you get a chance, this is a place that is worth your time. The National Parks of the USA are all worth a visit.
Another view of Spruce Tree House, circa 1954