Communing with the Ancients Mesa Verde, Colorado Part 2

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Welcome to Part II of the Mesa Verde experience. What a fabulous journey we are on. Next up: The Valleys of Mancos and Montezuma, plus Mesa Verde, Navajo Canyon and many more views and pithouse and pueblo sites.

Off we go to explore the homes of the ancients in Mesa Verde National Park. The park is on 52,485 acres, with 5000 ancestral sites including 600 cliff dwellings. Inhabitants of the region: Paleo-Indians 10,000 BCE – 7,500 BCE; Archaic built semi-permanent dwellings 7,500 BCE – 1,500 BCE; Basketmaker 1,500 BCE – 500 CE; Ancestral Puebloans 750 CE – 900 CE; Puebloans 950 CE – 1300 CE.

The population of Mesa Verde was estimated at 1,500 in 675 CE, by the 13th century the population grew to 20,000. Most of the puebloans had migrated out of the area by the 14th century. Those that migrated moved south to Arizona, New Mexico and Santa Fe. Drought and over population led to the migration but archaeologist have found that inter-fighting and fighting with other tribes played a part. Violence and cannibalism peaked between 1275-1285 and was widespread in North America due to global climate change affecting food supplies. I find these facts fascinating.

The Wetherill brothers, cattle ranchers who were considered fair people in their transactions with others, had become friends with some members of the Ute tribe. The Utes allowed them to “run cows” in the valley. In December 1888, Richard Wetherill and his friend Charlie Mason spotted the Cliff Palace from the top of Mesa Verde. Soon after other sites were found by the Wetherill brothers.

After these discoveries were made Gustaf Nordenskiold a Swedish scholar came to examine the dwellings. He was led to them by Richard Wetherill where he conducted the first scientific anthropological study of the dwellings. Nordenskiold also removed many artifacts and sent them to Finland where they reside today. Mr. Nordenskiold is one of the reasons that we now have the Antiquities Act of 1906. Finland should not have the priceless, irreplaceable artifacts/treasures from our country’s history. I strongly believe they should be returned.

Pictures are worth a thousand words. Enjoy!

Cliff Palace 1250 AD

This concludes our journey to the Mesa Verde pithouses, pueblos and cliff dwellings. This is a Unesco World Heritage Site, where some of the best preserved ancestral pueblo sites in the United States are preserved. I consider this a must see area. Go and contemplate what life was like for the early settlers of this area. Admire the craftsmanship and the determination that it took to build these places, some of which were abandoned in just 25 years. I promise that you will be emotionally moved with the experience. Until next time!…..

Camp Verde Arizona March 12-16 Jerome/Montezuma Castle & Well/Tuzigoot

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Our new base of operations was Verde River RV ($34.20/day) in Camp Verde, Arizona. It was central to all the capers we had planned for this area. We had to make some alterations to our plans but all in all this was a great few days of exploring history.

We headed up to Jerome early morning of the 13th. Jerome was built in the Black Hills on steep slopes at 5000+ feet above sea level. The population was 10,000 during it’s copper mining days in the 1920s. After the mine played out the population dwindled down to 444. In 1917, when mine workers tried to unionize, the workers were removed at gunpoint and loaded in to cattle cars and railroaded to other areas. It brought a lot of scrutiny to the small town.

Prior to settlement by the Europeans, the area was inhabited by the Hohokam Indians from 700-1125 BCE. The mining brought in a lot of brothels and women were subject to being murdered and their murders never solved.

The town is currently full of art galleries, craft stores, wineries, coffee houses, and restaurants and tourism sustains the community. There is a wonderful history museum on Main Street. Jerome is a nice, friendly kind of place and we had a delicious cup of hot cocoa on a cold, windy day on Main Street.

We spent the next day at Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well National Monuments. These are two are separate sites just a few miles from each other. European settlers who discovered the ruins in 1860 mistakenly thought that they had found Aztec ruins, thus, the name.


The pueblos were built by the Sinagua (Without Water), pre-Columbians, who are related to the Hohokam and other indigenous tribes. The pueblos were built between 1100 and 1425 AD. Main structures were five stories tall and had twenty rooms. Don’t let the dates mislead you about the inhabitants of the region. Prior to building the dwellings, many indigenous people used the caves from about 10,000 years ago. Montezuma Castle is one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America and is built in the cliffs above Beaver Creek, a tributary of the Verde River.

This place is a spectacular and a very spiritual site. Native Americans consider it sacred and request that you honor the site with reverence when you visit. We were fortunate that, at this time of year, it wasn’t crowded. One school group from a local private prep school was visiting while we were there. I will not disclose the name of the school, but we tried to avoid them because they were the epitome of the “privileged white kids.” Before the day was out I did email the school to voice my concerns, but, alas, they haven’t chosen to respond. Sad, but we didn’t let them take away from our experience as a whole.

While the prep school kids were having lunch, we headed over to Montezuma’s Well (Yavapai). The Well is formed in limestone by an underground spring, which is somewhat like a sinkhole. The spring supplies 1.5 million gallons of water daily. There are many prehistoric dwellings (700-1425 CE) in the rock rim surrounding the well. The Sinagua were talented farmers and built aqueducts below the Well, along the Verde River. Some of those aqueducts have survived and you can follow them along the river.

The Castle and the Well would make a great addition to anyone’s bucket list. I’m certainly glad we went and saw the amazing work and learned the true history of an amazing people. Go, you’ll be glad you did!

On the way to the well, we stopped by a prehistoric Sinagua Pit House nearby. It dates to 1050 CE. It was a great specimen of pre-pueblo living.

Our next caper was visiting Tuzigoot National Monument. I like learning about our country’s history and I like saying Tuzigoot! Tuzigoot is Apache for “crooked waters.” This is appropriate as Tuzigoot is on the summit of a limestone and sandstone ridge above the Verde River. The Verde River Valley has a rich assortment of Native American ruins all through the valley, an archaeologists dream.

The Tuzigoot pueblo was also built by the Sinagua people between 1125 and 1400. It was three stories tall and has about 97 rooms and was home to about 250 people. Soon after construction stopped in 1400, Tuzigoot was abandoned like other pueblos. The reason for abandonment is still being discussed by experts and there is no definitive answer.

I hope you are enjoying following along on our trip. I am having the time of my life and learning more about our important history. Hope to catch you next time when I share the Grand Canyon excursion. Until next time!