Not in a hurry, we departed Moab shortly before mid-morning, driving south on US Highway 191, and continuing southwest on US Highway 491 to Cortez, Colorado.
After checking into our “retro” motel, we drove to Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde has always been a fascination for us. I visited once in the 1970s, and Kay and I visited in 2009 on our 2009 Southwest USA trip (see journal entry for Friday, September 26, 2009). Mesa Verde National Park is known for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, notably the huge Cliff Palace.
The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, having exhibits on the ancient Native American culture, was closed. Mesa Top Loop Road winds past archaeological sites and overlooks, including Sun Point Overlook with panoramic canyon views; regretfully, a significant portion of Mesa Top Loop Road was also closed. We did stop at a couple of the few overlooks that were open, and snapped off some photographs. Our first stop was at on overlook for Long House. Long House is nearly equal in size to Cliff Palace with about 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and a row of upper storage rooms. It may have been home to 150 to 175 people. Some of the architectural features in Long House suggest it was also a public place where people from all over Wetherill Mesa gathered to trade or hold community events. The formal plaza in the center of the site is larger than most villages and has some features not often found in other Mesa Verde archeological sites. For instance, the benches, vaults, and a raised firebox may indicate that this large open space was a dance plaza or great kiva, similar to Fire Temple on Chapin Mesa. The high number of rooms and kivas in Long House, plus the presence of the formal plaza suggest the community was a particularly significant place for Ancestral Pueblo people, perhaps serving both civic and ceremonial functions.
Our next stop was at an overlook for Cliff Palace. Mesa Verde Cliff Palace, the largest and most famous cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park, has over 150 individual rooms and 23 kivas (rooms for religious rituals) with an estimated population of approximately 100 people. Because of so many closures, Mesa Verde National Park was a bit of disappointment, but fortunately our prior visit was thorough.