The cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park in southern Colorado were unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. These buildings were constructed from sandstone by ancient Puebloan (also known as Anasazi) communities, who opted to build under the overhanging cliffs for added protection.
The Puebloans lived here 1,400 years ago (that’s around 700 CE!) and stayed for hundreds of years before eventually building these elaborate stone communities in the alcoves of Mesa Verde’s canyon walls.
The communities grew crops and hunted game on the mesa tops, which they reached by hand-and-toe-hold trails pecked into the canyon walls. We found it remarkable (well, remarkably scary!) that they chiseled toe-holds into the stone so they could climb up the rock face as part of their daily commute.
In the two photos below you can see remnants of these trails still visible in the sandstone (although in this specific location it’s likely that they also had a simple ladder in place, as well).
Beginning in late April and continuing throughout the summer and into the fall, visitors can explore all of the cliff dwellings and go on ranger-led tours into the most popular areas, including the Cliff Palace. However, because of the time of year we visited (early April), park activities were fairly restricted. Despite not being able to tour the palace, thought, we did get to see an awesome view of it from the Mesa Top Loop overlook.
Can you spot the Cliff Palace in this photo?
The Spruce Tree House, the only dwelling open for exploration (in this case, via a self-guided tour), was accessible via a short hike from the museum. You couldn’t really walk through the dwellings themselves, but that wasn’t necessary to get a sense of what a phenomenal feat it would have been to build these apartment-sized buildings nearly a thousand years ago.