mesa verde finale: the aramak tour

Holly was our guide for the Aramak tour at Mesa Verde National Park from 8-12 a.m. Monday morning. The tour only covered Chapin Mesa.  We headed straight for the Mesa Top Loop while she told us some of the history of Mesa Verde, which became a National Park in 1906. It became the first World Heritage Site in the U.S. in 1978. The park is not known for its beauty, she said, but for its cultural heritage, with the ancestral homes of 21 modern-day Pueblo groups that trace their ancestry back to these regions.  Thus the park preserves a link from the past to the present.


Aramak tour

The flute player clan of the Hopi tribe says they came from Mesa Verde.  It is surmised that people left because of overpopulation, drought, or stress on the society.  Or it is also likely that this just wasn’t a good place to live anymore.

At the top of Chapin Mesa, we see burnt out skeletons of trees; Holly tells us a wildfire caused by lightning burnt 2,800 acres in 2002.

Our first stop was at the Pithouses and Pueblos (A.D. 700-950).  The pitroom was used for ceremonies as well as cooking and sleeping. A hole in the roof allowed smoke to escape the pithouse.  However, breathing may have still been difficult in these smoky, subterranean rooms.

Villages of this era had only one or two pitrooms.  The slabs and floor cavities are typical of earlier pithouses; some villagers may have moved here in winter, finding the pitroom easier to heat than surface dwellings.





Holly told us about the vegetation on the mesa.  She said the Utah junipers were infested by mistletoe, a parasite that kills the junipers.  Juniper is absorbent and is used for bandages, diapers and John Wayne toilet paper, the packaging of which says “It’s rough!  It’s tough! And it doesn’t take crap off anyone!”  Juniper berries flavor gin and game meat, and are used to make ghost beads to protect people from bad dreams.

The pinyon pines have a sticky sap used for sealant.  They were used to seal baskets used for carrying water and for healing cream.  Needles are used to make tea.  Pine nuts from pinyon pines are expensive because they only come out every 4-7 years.

According to Holly, the broad leaf yucca is not a succulent.  The fibers were used as paintbrushes to decorate pottery and pre-threaded sewing needles. They were weaved to make sandals and plaited together to make rope and baskets. The root could be used as soap.

The Gamble Oaks in the canyon are only ten feet tall.  There are no cottonwoods in the canyon because they need more water than is available.

We saw an Anasazi kiva, or underground religious room. The small, circular hole in the floor is a sipapu, a symbolic entrance into the underworld – the Pueblo place of origin.  The kiva had several functions: crafts workshop, social gathering place, and a chamber in which to plan or perform ceremonies.


Ceremonial chamber


Ceremonial chamber

We stood in the courtyard of an early pueblo village.  By 850 A.D., most Mesa Verde people were living in surface dwellings instead of pithouses.  Adjoining rooms may reflect a greater degree of cooperation required by an expanding population.

The walls were built by setting poles upright and weaving small sticks between them, then plastering the walls with mud – a technique called “wattle and daub.”

Three distinct villages are here; for at least 150 years, a succession of Pueblo farmers occupied this same plot of ground. The mesa top was not the ideal place to live as it had poor drainage and was exposed to harsh weather, with earthen rooms chilled over the winter by deep snow.


village at Mesa Verde

We saw a view of Navajo Canyon from the bus, but we didn’t get off.


Navajo Canyon view

We stopped at views for Cliff Canyon, Oak Tree House Cliff Dwelling, Fire Temple, Sun Temple and Cliff Palace. The cliff dwellings themselves were not built until the final 75-100 years of Mesa Verde’s occupation. For over 600 years, the people lived mostly on the mesa tops.


Cliff Canyon


Oak Tree House Cliff Dwelling


Oak Tree House Cliff Dwelling


Sun Temple atop the canyon


Fire Temple


Fire Temple


Fire Temple

Sadly, I was unable to visit Cliff Palace because it was closed until the following weekend.  We were only able to view it from the overlook on the opposite side of the canyon.


Cliff Palace

We visited Sun Temple with its bread loaf stones.  From above, the D-shaped symmetry of the temple is remarkable, especially its twin kivas. Such massive construction must have involved a community-wide effort.  The structure was never completed; there is no evidence of a roof or roof timbers.  Apparently construction stopped when the Anasazi people began to leave the area. Though the structure appears ceremonial, its exact function remains a mystery.

The natives here used hand and toe holds to carry corn in baskets from farms on the mesa top to the cliff dwellings.  There was no evidence of death from falls. Residents here adapted to the environment.

At the end of our tour, we stopped for one final view of Cliff Palace, the largest of Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings.


Cliff Palace


me with Cliff Palace in the background

Here are my other Mesa Verde posts:
mesa verde overlooks
the step house trail at mesa verde
balcony house at mesa verde

*Monday, May 21, 2018*


“PHOTOGRAPHY” INVITATION:  I invite you to create a photography intention and then create a blog post for a place you have visited. Alternately, you can post a thematic post about a place, photos of whatever you discovered that set your heart afire. You can also do a thematic post of something you have found throughout all your travels: churches, doors, people reading, people hiking, mountains, patterns, all black & white, whatever!

You probably have your own ideas about this, but in case you’d like some ideas, you can visit my page: photography inspiration.

I challenge you to post no more than 20-25 photos and to write less than 1,500 words about any travel-related photography intention you set for yourself. Include the link in the comments below by Wednesday, July 3 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this challenge on Thursday, July 4, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation, every first, second, and third (& 5th, if there is one) Thursday of each month (I’ve now added the second Thursday). Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired!

  • Jude, of life at the edge, captured some gorgeous sculptures in a serene and inviting setting at Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden in St. Ives.

Thanks to all of you who shared posts on the “photography” invitation. 🙂