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Ancient Cliff Dwellings built of Sandstone and Mud Mortar Draw Modern Crowds

NO one knows why the ancestral Pueblo people abandoned Mesa Verde by 1300

Mesa Verde
Sometime during the late 1190s, after living atop the mesas for 600 years, many Ancestral Pueblo people began living in sandstone cities they built beneath the overhanging cliffs. VOA
  • Mesa Verde National Park in the southwestern part of the state, protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings built of sandstone and mud mortar
  • Because the dwellings are on the edge of a cliff, visitors get unprecedented views of the surrounding country
  • For seven centuries, starting around 1,500 years ago, the area was home to the Ancestral Pueblo people

June 27, 2017: After leaving the enchanting landscape of New Mexico, national parks traveler Mikah Meyer headed north into the state of Colorado, where he found more natural and manmade wonders.

Cliff Dwellings ‘on steroids’

His first stop was Mesa Verde National Park in the southwestern part of the state, which protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings built of sandstone and mud mortar. It is home to the largest, best-known and best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America.

Having visited the “impressive” Gila Cliff dwellings in New Mexico, Mikah said the ones at Mesa Verde were on a whole new level.

“They are 10 times bigger,” he said. “There are just so many ruins to look at, and hike to and from, and tour, that it’s basically a cliff dwelling site on steroids!”

Accompanied by a ranger, who was a family friend, he walked among the ancient structures, marveling at their beauty and architecture.

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Ancient culture

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, is not only a beautiful national park site, but historically significant as well. For seven centuries, starting around 1,500 years ago, the area was home to the Ancestral Pueblo people.

Their culture spanned the present-day “Four Corners” region of the United States – which is where four states – Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah – meet. Today, that notable spot is a popular tourist destination, where visitors can literally place a limb in every state.

Back at the park, visitors can visit cliff dwellings of different sizes.

Balcony house — a 13th-century marvel

Tucked under a sandstone overhang, Mesa Verde’s Balconi House offers an ambitious tour. Accompanied by park rangers, visitors have to climb a 10-meter (32-foot) high ladder and squeeze through a tunnel to reach some of the main areas.

But their efforts are rewarded with close-up views of the massive structures — including 40 rooms and two ancient Kivas, circular structures that were typically used for religious and social gatherings.

In a National Park video about Mesa Verde, ranger Andrew Reagan says visitors to the sites can’t quite believe the existence of the dwellings.

“They come to this park and they first see the cliff dwellings and they think ‘that’s an impossible place to live.’ But as soon as you climb that ladder and you’re inside the North Plaza, it all makes sense. They look around at the beautiful walls and the balconies that still have their plasters on them and they think, ‘I could do this…this is a really comfortable space.’”

Also, as Mikah points out, because the dwellings are on the edge of a cliff, visitors get unprecedented views of the surrounding country. “You can go to the peak and have amazing 360-degree views of Shiprock [Mountain] in New Mexico and the Colorado valley and mountains and white capped mountains to your east.”

Long House

The second largest cliff dwelling in the park is Long House, and getting to it is another adventurous journey. A two-hour ranger-guided tour includes hiking for 3.6 kilometers (2.25 miles) and climbing two ladders.

During the tour, park rangers point out the nearby stream which provided fresh water for the people who lived here, and discuss their agricultural practices in the dry desert.

Cliff Palace

Another site, Cliff Palace, is the largest cliff dwelling, not only in Mesa Verde park but in all of North America. With 150 rooms and 21 kivas, people say it looks more like a city.

After visitors walk down a sandstone trail and climb up a 3-meter (10-foot) long ladder, they’re greeted with stunning examples of ancient architecture.

“And you get to look at each individually crafted block of sandstone that was crafted 800 years ago and realize how much time and energy the Pueblo Society invested in these sites,” according to ranger Reagan.

Mesa Verde was abandoned by 1300, and no one knows why. Some say it was due to a series of prolonged droughts, or possibly by over-farming, which hurt food production.

But the site remains an attractive destination for visitors seeking beauty and ancient history. “They built these sites so grand that they were drawing people in from all over, 800 years ago,” Reagan said.

And 800 years later, the UNESCO World Heritage Site continues to draw visitors from all over, like Mikah Meyer.

He invites you to learn more about his travels across America by visiting him on his website, Facebook and Instagram. (VOA)

Next Story

Claiming Bias, U.S.A. And Israel Pull Out Of UNESCO

The U.S. could potentially seek that status during UNESCO Executive Board meetings in April.

The logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is seen druing a conference at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, Nov. 4, 2017. VOA

The United States and Israel officially quit of the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency at the stroke of midnight, the culmination of a process triggered more than a year ago amid concerns that the organization fosters anti-Israel bias.

The withdrawal is mainly procedural yet serves a new blow to UNESCO, co-founded by the U.S. after World War II to foster peace.

The Trump administration filed its notice to withdraw in October 2017 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed suit.

The Paris-based organization has been denounced by its critics as a crucible for anti-Israel bias: blasted for criticizing Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, naming ancient Jewish sites as Palestinian heritage sites and granting full membership to Palestine in 2011.

UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Image Source:

The U.S. has demanded “fundamental reform” in the agency that is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions. UNESCO also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, and to defend media freedom.

The withdrawals will not greatly impact UNESCO financially, since it has been dealing with a funding slash ever since 2011 when both Israel and the U.S. stopped paying dues after Palestine was voted in as a member state. Since then officials estimate that the U.S. — which accounted for around 22 percent of the total budget — has accrued $600 million in unpaid dues, which was one of the reasons for President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw. Israel owes an estimated $10 million.

UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay took up her post just after Trump announced the pullout. Azoulay, who has Jewish and Moroccan heritage, has presided over the launch of a Holocaust education website and the U.N.’s first educational guidelines on fighting anti-Semitism — initiatives that might be seen as responding to U.S. and Israeli concerns.

USA, shutdown
Migrants wait in line for food at a camp housing hundreds of people who arrived at the U.S. border from Central America with the intention of applying for asylum in the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 12, 2018. VOA

Officials say that many of the reasons the U.S. cited for withdrawal do not apply anymore, noting that since then, all 12 texts on the Middle East passed at UNESCO have been consensual among Israel and Arab member states.

In April of this year, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO said the mood was “like a wedding” after member nations signed off on a rare compromise resolution on “Occupied Palestine,” and UNESCO diplomats hailed a possible breakthrough on longstanding Israeli-Arab tensions.

The document was still quite critical of Israel, however, and the efforts weren’t enough to encourage the U.S. and Israel to reconsider their decision to quit.

In recent years, Israel has been infuriated by repeated resolutions that ignore and diminish its historical connection to the Holy Land and that have named ancient Jewish sites as Palestinian heritage sites.

Israel Flag, Pixabay

The State Department couldn’t comment because of the U.S. government shutdown. Earlier, the department told UNESCO officials the U.S. intends to stay engaged at UNESCO as a non-member “observer state” on “non-politicized” issues, including the protection of World Heritage sites, advocating for press freedoms and promoting scientific collaboration and education.

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The U.S. could potentially seek that status during UNESCO Executive Board meetings in April.

The United States has pulled out of UNESCO before. The Reagan administration did so in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. The U.S. rejoined in 2003. (VOA)