The scientific tourist #26 — Cliff Palace

This week’s picture is from Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado — it’s of Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America:

Cliff Palace Ruins from cliff's edge

Cliff Palace is about 288 feet (88 meters) long, and contains about 150 rooms — although only about 30 of them had hearths, so it likely was home to just a few dozen families. Tree ring dating of timbers in the ruins indicate that construction of Cliff Palace took place between about 1190 and 1260 AD, with most of the construction done over a twenty year period. Cliff Palace was then abandoned by 1300, as part of the mass migration of the Ancestral Puebloan population out of this area to lower areas — as I’ve discussed a bit previously.

Cliff Palace was officially re-discovered in 1888 by Richard Wetherill and Charles Mason — two local cowboys searching for lost cattle. Still, other Mesa Verde dwellings were known at the time from prospectors’ tales, so Cliff Palace and the others may well have been visited a number of times in the preceding centuries. But once word got into the press about the wealth of ruins in the area, it became a hot tourist spot — and true to form, these tourists didn’t want to go home empty-handed. During the next two decades, the ruins were severely damaged by souvenir-hungry visitors, many of whom felt no qualms about pulling out timbers for firewood, or knocking holes in walls to get at interior rooms.

The pressure to preserve the Mesa Verde ruins for posterity grew until finally, in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress established Mesa Verde National Park “to preserve the works of man.” This made Mesa Verde the first park of its kind in the world.

You can still get souvenirs when you visit, but they’ll be of considerably more recent vintage — and you can’t visit the cliff dwellings without a Ranger escorting you. But there’s plenty to see (you could easily spend days exploring and not take everything in), and you’ll definitely go home with a bit more respect for what Mesa Verde’s inhabitants were able to accomplish in a less-than-verdant corner of the world.

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3 Responses to The scientific tourist #26 — Cliff Palace

  1. Neat picture. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Pingback: Sorting Out Science » Blog Archive » The scientific tourist #33 — Spruce Tree House

  3. Pingback: Sorting Out Science » Blog Archive » Scientific tourist #94 — Bandelier Longhouse

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