Cliff Palace Black and White at Mesa Verde National Park

November 5, 2011
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Ruins at the Cliff Palace of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado stand intact after hundreds of years of weathering. (Mike Cavaroc)
Ruins at the Cliff Palace of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado stand intact after hundreds of years.

Note: This is a minimally processed photo. I’m on my laptop so the final version may or may not change in terms of processing once I’m back home.

The Cliff Palace ruins at Mesa Verde National Park are a remarkable sight to see. For $3, I was able to take a quick tour of it led by a ranger providing all kinds of insight into its history. Unfortunately though, one of the pieces of information he gave us was that we could probably some of the last people to go near it.

He began to discuss the history on how it was built and that it simply wasn’t ideal for the long-term and that the entire structure itself is becoming very unstable. As a result, Mesa Verde National Park is currently considering closing Cliff Palace permanently beginning in the spring of 2012. As of November 4th, it’s currently closed for the season.

Interestingly enough, Cliff Palace itself only represents a fraction of the time that the inhabitants were there: roughly 80 years or so. The history that the rangers and archaeologists have pieced together is that they lived very well on top of the mesa for hundreds of years until they had consumed all of the resources there. They had hunted all the wildlife and damaged the soil to a point where their crops wouldn’t grow anymore. Where the town of Mancos, Colorado currently is, just to the east of Mesa Verde National Park, wars began breaking out when it became apparent that the last of the resources were becoming scarce. Those that lived on top of the mesa began to move into the cliffs where they couldn’t be found. But after roughly three generations (the average life-span then being 30-35 years old), droughts, wars and damage to the ecosystem eventually drove them out permanently.

One of the most interesting aspects in Mesa Verde National Park (in my opinion) is the Sun Temple. It was on one end of a network of towers that spanned 140 miles down to Chaco Canyon used as a means of communication. If you’ve seen Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King, then you’ve seen a good demonstration of this exact concept in action. It’s fascinating to think that even with primitive technology, they were still able to communicate nearly instantaneously to another civilization 140 miles away!

If you find yourself anywhere near southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is absolutely worth the visit. Even if Cliff Palace does wind up closing permanently, there are an enormous amount of other ruins that are still open and just as exciting to explore.

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