In Mesa Verde
National Park, the remnants of a once great civilization
stand on the side of a giant mesa. The words "Mesa Verde" themselves translate
to Green Mesa, and the valley was once a fertile land, with rivers and well-cared
for gardens. Though now mostly desert
, the sprawling remains
of the Anasazi
cliff cities remain, and one of the largest of these is
Entrance to the park is $10 a vehicle, $5 for bikers, hikers, etc. and entrance tickets are good for six days. After entrance to the park, a ranger
-guided tour (mandatory) is about two bucks to take the long hike down and then up again to the city. Make sure you're in shape and dress appropriately (Tux optional).
The Physical Structure of Cliff Palace
Built around 1100 AD in the “Classic” Pueblo
III style* (Kempe 106), it
is built into the natural cleft of a sandstone
mesa. The cave
back ninety feet, is three hundred twenty five feet wide, and the arched
roof reaches sixty feet above the cave floor (Kempe 108), which is about
five and a half modern stories tall. From the roof of the cave to the top
of the mesa is a hundred feet, while the distance from the floor of the cave
to the canyon below is a dizzying seven hundred feet
. Inside the one
massive cave sits a four-story apartment type complex, with over two hundred
rooms (Kempe 112). In addition to these rooms there are twenty-three “kiva
male-only religious sauna
s that were the centers for much of the more important
tribal activity, such as religious
, and weaving
then a male-only task.
The materials used for constructing this “city in a hill
, fashioned into large blocks and bricks that distributed
the weight of the building evenly. For important structures, such as certain
entryways and kivas, a more advanced support system using columns and beams
that distributed the pressure of the building to a more localized area (Morrow
78) was used. Though spreading the weight evenly sounds
like a good
idea, the second approach was better and more durable: look at the example
of how an arch
is built (centralized pressure increases it's holding capability)
versus just putting a plank on two books to create a bridge
. All other
things equal, the arch will support more. The city would expand as time passed
and the population grew, and the less structured approach of bricks and block
allowed easier addition
s to the complex however, and so this method prevailed.
Perhaps just as impressive as the city itself was the immense infrastructure
built to support it: a vast network of road
s, farms, and garden
from Cliff Palace. Four hundred miles of ancient roads have been discovered
in Anasazi territory, spanning up to thirty feet wide (Morrow 84). These
roads allowed the Anasazi
to quickly (relative to the times) conduct trade
missions, religious ceremonies, and herd animals. The lands around the cities
were full of lush gardens, fed by plentiful canal
s and dam
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Cliff Dwellings for the Anasazi People
or Why the %$#?! did these people live in caves?
One of the first apparent advantages of living seven hundred feet high is
, which indeed became important as warring tribes moved northward**.
But perhaps an even greater factor in their dwelling place was escape from
: the shade kept the temperature much cooler in the day then in
the rest of the canyon
, and the warm rocks moderated the freezing temperatures
at night. In addition to protection from the heat, the cliff shelter protected
the housing and the people from all the elements
: centuries later, Cliff
Palace is amazingly well preserved while similar adobe
s built out into
the open have been long ago worn away.
Of course, living so high had its own problems as well. Water was scarce,
so long treks had to be made almost daily to replenish the village store.
Some natural spring existed in the cave, but these were not enough as hundreds
of people began living there. Also, transporting the crop
s was a hard trek
down towards the city (from the top of the mesa, where the farms were), some
of the journey being on a small outcropping barely large enough to stick one’s
foot, and these perilous journeys were made without the “modern” convenience
of even a horse
, but were done solely on foot (no pun intended).
*The Anasazi architecture evolved through 7 distinct phases, three
"Basketweaver" and five "Pueblo" Stages. Pueblo III was the style during
the height of the Anasazi civilization, though not necessarily the technical
**A side note: although they were replaced by a warrior tribe, it
is believed the Anasazi were killed by drought, not for lack of defense.
Kempe, David. Living Underground--A History of Cave and Cliff Dwelling. London:
Herbert Press, 1988.
Ed. Morrow, Baker and Price, V.B.. Anasazi Architecture and American Design.
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997.