RADIATING from "Four Corners," where the States of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona meet at a common point, is a vast land of scenic grandeur, inhabited by unusual people, and rich in monuments and abandoned homes of still earlier tribes of the prehistoric past.
From this great inter-mountain plateau rise huge monoliths, mesas, and mountain ranges. Here live, in primitive fashion, the virile and inimitable Navajos, the peaceful and friendly Pueblos, and the more warlike and sullen Utes, all practicing the handicrafts of the ancients.
Dominating this region like a huge and unscalable fortress towers the Mesa Verdea tableland 15 miles long, more than 9 miles wide, and rising 1,500 feet above the surrounding valleys, intriguing and challenging all who see it.
In 1906 the Congress set aside as a national park an area of approximately 52,000 acres on the Mesa Verde, which today is recognized as the Nation's major archeological preserve. Mesa Verde National Park enjoys the distinction of being the only one of the great western national park areas created to preserve the works of men.
The trip to the top of the Mesa Verde is made over a spectacular highway, oil surfaced and of double width, from which the visitor obtains magnificent views into four States. The memorable ride along the north escarpment is followed by a beautiful winding drive to park headquarters, passing through dense juniper and pinyon forests, where wild flowers and shrubs bloom in profusion from early spring until late autumn.
The southern exposure of the mesa is gashed by deep, precipitous canyons in whose walls, high above the stream bed, nature has eroded unnumbered caves. It is in these natural canyon caves that the largest and best preserved cliff dwellings in the world are found. Not one or two, but hundreds of these magnificent prehistoric dwellings are revealed to the astonished visitors as they travel over the scenic rim drives and picturesque trails. Back amid the forests on the mesa top are found additional thousands of early homesites. The variety and complexity of the ruins and the evidence of the material culture of the aboriginal builders all point to a long-time occupation of the Mesa Verde. Archeologists who have studied the material evidence of the ancient inhabitants place a relative time age of the prehistoric Indian occupation ranging approximately from the beginning of the Christian era to 1300 years A. D.
In early times a sizable population sought shelter and built homes on the mesa. The people obtained their livelihood by practicing agriculture, cultivating corn, beans, squash and melons as the major crops. The native fruits were gooseberries, service berries, choke cherries, pinyon nuts, acorns and the prickly pear. Bones of the deer, mountain sheep, turkey, squirrel, wood rat, and prairie dog show that these early inhabitants were good hunters also, and had a natural tendency to balance their diet.
No doubt their life was hard, but they were a religious people who worshipped the Sun as the father of all, and the Earth as the mother who brought all material blessings. Confident of the goodness and favor of their gods, they depended upon them to make the rain fall and the corn grow tall. The ruins of Sun Temple, Fire Temple, and the many hundreds of kivas are truly indicative of the full ceremonial life led by these ancients.
The caves were shelter not only from the elements, but from human enemies as well, and these peace-loving people no doubt treasured the safety afforded them,
The first tribes coming to the Mesa Verde had little culture when they scaled the precipitous cliffs and sought this shelter in the embracing canyons. With the successive generations they made interesting cultural progress. These ancient dwellers were not content with rude buildings and outgrew the natural cave and earth homes that satisfied less civilized Indians to the north or south. Here, in favorable surroundings provided by nature, lived America's first apartment house builders. Developing a fine community and social life, these people built complex structures of stone and timber, some containing hundreds of rooms.
They possessed no written language, and the only records found today are the symbols woven into their baskets, painted on earthen pottery, or scratched upon the sides of the cliffs adjoining their habitations. Their sense of beauty was keen, and their art true, though primitive and generally symbolic. Even as judged by the highly developed tastes of today, their decoration of cotton fabrics and ceramic work is beautiful. Arrow points, knives, and grinding mortars were fashioned of stone; they wove intricately patterned blankets and made attractive sandals.
The homes and monuments of this advanced group of prehistoric Indians may be seen by all who choose to visit Mesa Verde National Park, in southwestern Colorado.
Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Spruce Tree House, Square Tower House, Far View House, Sun Temple, Fire Temple, and other of the major ruins are daily entered by visitors in the company of park ranger-naturalists who explain the salient features of the ruins and their builders. In a large museum is exhibited a splendid collection of their art and industry, as well as skeletons and mummies of the makers. Nightly, as people gather about the campfire, the story of the ancients is told by the ranger-naturalists; and Navajo Indians living in the park perform the ancient ceremonial dances of their people, to the beat of chant and tom-tom.
A visit to Mesa Verde National Park is an educational experience, full of interest and pleasure. The winters are mild and summers cool and there are many canyons and thousands of ruins. Away from the improved highways are foot and horseback trails that lead into a wilderness full of ruins yet unexcavatedmany unexplored.
Days spent among the ruins, and evenings by the campfire, will create a lasting impression of the charm and beauty of this unique national park.