Mesa Verde National Park is an informative showcase of ancestral Puebloan history. At this time of the year, access is limited to the North Rim Drive to Far View Point, the Chapin Mesa including Spruce Tree Loop and Mesa Top Loop.
Park Point Overlook in the direction of Cortez, La Plata County.
The geological formations of Mesa Verde National Park were mainly deposited when the Western Interior Seaway washed over the mid-section of the North American continent.
About 100 million years ago, the sea reached the Mesa Verde area and deposited the Dakota Sandtone. Initially, sand was deposited in a very shallow area of the sea near the beach.
The sand was compacted and cemented into sandstone. These rocks form the erosion resistant base of the Montezuma Valley below Mesa Verde, around the city of Cortez.
Hills of Mancos Shale as seen from the Knife Edge Trail.
One of the most well preserved and breathtaking cliff dwelllings in Mesa Verde.
Above the Mancos Shale is the collection of formations known as the “Mesaverde” Group. The group was actually named by geologists in 1875, well before the designation of the area as a national park.
Standing tall at 8,5 meters the Square Tower House is the tallest cliff dwelling in the park. After a short walk through the trees the view opens up to this beautiful building below.
Canyon in surrounding Mesas (The first Spanish explorers to the area called it Mesa Verde, or “green table.” This expression is actually a misnomer. The correct geological term for the area is a cuesta, not a mesa. Mesas are isolated, flat-topped highlands with steeply sloping sides or cliffs, and are topped by a cap of much harder rocks that are resistant to erosion. The cap protects the softer underlying slopes or cliffs from being quickly weathered away. The only difference between a cuesta and a mesa is that a cuesta gently dips in one direction. Mesa Verde is inclined slightly to the south at about a seven degree angle. This cuesta is made up of many separate, smaller “mesas” situated between the canyons. Although technically we should call the park “Cuesta Verde,” convention dictates that we use the term “mesa” when describing the area).
The green table with the inlay cliff dwelling.
The 7° (degree) angle of Mesa Verde is essential to the formation of the alcoves. Alcoves are large, arched recessions formed in a cliff wall. (An alcove is not the same as a cave. Caves are underground chambers, which are not found in Mesa Verde.) The majority of alcoves within Mesa Verde are small crevices or ledges able to accommodate only a few small rooms. Very few are large enough to house a dwelling the size of Cliff Palace, at left. But alcoves have protected the cliff dwellings for centuries and largely contribute to their spectacular preservation.
On many of the cliff faces, vertical streaks of dark brown or black can be seen. This is called desert varnish. It is different than the blackening of the roofs in the alcoves, which was darkened by smoke from cooking fires. Desert varnish forms when manganese, a mineral found either within the rock or in windblown dust, is fixed to the cliff face by bacteria. The bacterial action occurs on the portions of rock that are wet from runoff water, which causes the streaking effect.
Fragments of former dwellings on a ledge.
The mesa top is blanketed by a red soil called loess. Loess is a deposit of very fine silt, which is transported by the wind from dry regions. The loess at Mesa Verde was blown in by southwesterly wind for the past one million years. The soil is very rich and holds moisture, thus is a perfect medium for agriculture.
Spruce Tree House.
A nice, 100 year old renovated home full with seasonal decorative bric-a-brac (turning from the Halloween deco directly into Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s a mess).
Comfy bed! Sleep well y’all!