Preface to First Edition
Located in southwestern Colorado and part of the Four
Corners regionthe only spot in the United States where four states
come togetherMesa Verde National Park is America's first cultural
park. Unlike its predecessors, it is not filled with the rugged
topography and environmental wonders that made Yellowstone and Yosemite
famous. Encompassing 80 square miles (52,074 acres), it celebrates a
culture that slipped silently into history centuries earlier, and it is
separated from today by an abyss of time. The first and only national
park in the world to preserve solely the works of prehistoric people,
Mesa Verde sits on the fringe of the American Southwest, among more
natural and man-made attractions than any comparable part of North
Americaperhaps of the whole New World.
The eminent archaeologist and historian Robert Lister
considers it likely that more people have examined firsthand the remains
of prehistoric American Indian settlement at Mesa Verde than anywhere
else in the United States. But the question lingers: How much does the
visitor really understand?
Al Wetherill, one of the brothers who brought these
ruins to public attention in the 1890s, commented several generations
ago: "It is strange how unobserving some people are, or what little
impression the Mesa Verde leaves upon them." Its vastness, he believed,
contributed to the visitors' failure to grasp the significance of the
park. Mesa Verde has not yielded its rich treasures to a quick glance
here and there in the rush to reach yet another vacation attraction. The
park must be savored and pondered to be understood and enjoyed.
It is difficult for us today to understand that the
prehistoric world was very different indeed from ours. Failure to
appreciate Mesa Verde comes from our inability to imagine what took
place so long ago in these canyons and mesas. Visitors need to renew
their curiosity so that they can learn from what they see. Perhaps all
of us need to look at it with the wondering, expectant, exploring mind
of a child.
Too often the public, burdened with twentieth-century
parochialisms, arrives and departs in haste. In the summer of 1986, I
overheard the telephone conversation of a California visitor telling
someone back home about where she thought she had landed: "We're here at
this Indian National Forest. You've heard of the Costa Mesa Cliff
DwellingsI'm calling from the parking lot." Mesa Verde deserves a
better fate than to be a victim of ignorance. This book, however, does
not tell the story of the people who called Mesa Verde home. Instead it
traces the history of the area from the discovery of the abandoned cliff
dwellings and the mesa sites to the struggle to save them, describes the
creation of a national park in 1906, and assesses the impact of the
years since then on Mesa Verde National Park. Although the
superintendent of Mesa Verde National Park has been in charge of several
other areas over the years, including Colorado, Aztec Ruins, and
Hovenweep national monuments, these are not included; the focus of this
book is solely on the national park.
Mesa Verde is timeless. When visitors today peer
across the canyon to catch their first glimpse of Spruce Tree House,
they probably feel some of the same excitement that came a hundred years
earlier with its discovery. The past wields its influence on them in
prosaic, as well as profound, ways: a mistake in the early days resulted
in the misnaming of Spruce Tree House. It was a Douglas fir, not a
spruce, which once grew there. But somehow Douglas-fir House does not
slip off the tongue quite so smoothlyor maybe, like an old hat,
Spruce Tree just fits better. In the following pages, the story of Mesa
Verdeon multiple levelsunfolds as Americans and their
government grew to appreciate the heritage preserved in the canyons and
WINSTON CHURCHILL ONCE SAID that writing a book
is like "having a friend and companion at your side . . . whose society
becomes more attractive as a new and widening field of interest is
lighted in the mind." That certainly has been my experience with Mesa
Verde, an evolution that would not have occurred without the assistance
of many friends and colleagues.
No author could expect more helpful, cooperative
support than I received from the personnel at Mesa Verde National Park.
Special thanks go to Superintendent Robert Heyder, who gave me the "keys
to the kingdom"; ever-helpful librarian Beverly Cunningham; cheerful
Bill Creutz and his photographic work; insightful Jack Smith; and Allen
Bohnert, Doug Caldwell, and Don Fiero.
The staffs of the Colorado Historical Society, the
Western History Department of the Denver Public Library, the Western
Historical Collection at the University of Colorado, the National
Archives, and the Smithsonian Institution provided a variety of help. I
am grateful also to the Pioneers' Museum at Colorado Springs and to
Becky Smoldt for assistance with the McClurg material. The cheerfulness
of the Durango Public Library personnel will always be appreciated, as
will their allowing me to pester them continually for the key to the
locked collectionseven after the key once traveled home with me!
Brenda Bailey, who enthusiastically ferreted out interlibrary loans, and
Danny LaVarta, a long-time friend in charge of the Fort Lewis College
periodicals and microfilm, came up with some valuable gems. Tom Noel
offered his usual sage advice.
My thanks to all those people who allowed me to
interview them or who spent time corresponding about Mesa Verde matters.
Bill and Merrie Winkler were especially helpful in sharing information,
photographs, and memories of their era in the park. David Lavender went
far beyond professional courtesy when he shared his research and writing
on the park, as did Art Gomez, who allowed me to read chapters of his
dissertation. Marty Brace spent hours searching for information at the
University of Arizona, and Clay and Jean Bader and Kathy and Dale
Anderson kindly shared interviews, photographs, and enthusiasm. Fellow
southwestern enthusiast Jackson Clark supported my efforts in so many
ways that he deserves more than the traditional three cheers.
To all of these people, and to the many others who
helped in so many ways, I extend my warmest thanks. Again, my wife Gay's
sharp editorial pen and skillful computer work carried me through to the
end. I hope that they all feel that the final effort was worthy of their
contributions and support.
This volume is dedicated to two dear friends, Jan and
Glen Crandall, who have shared many an adventure in the San Juans, at
Mesa Verde, and along the trails of the mining frontier.