Part 14: Mesa Verde National Park: Balcony House


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The Trip

We had decided to visit our dear friends Brad and Laura in Durango.  They had told us that highway US550 was closed due to a rock slide, so we plotted a path that skirted around the problem area.  The path took us by Mesa Verde National Park so we decided to spend the night there and then tour a small fraction of the ruins the following day.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

The road to the campground  went up to the top of a high mesa.  From a pull-out on the road we got a nice view of the Cortez, CO area to the northwest.

Toward Mancos, the steep escarpments of the mesa were visible.

There were a number of fires on the mesa in the recent past leaving many dead juniper trees in their wake.

Yes!!  I had seen plenty of Fantastically Fat Asses (FFA) earlier in the morning so this sight was a pleasant surprise.  Not necessarily outstanding in the global scheme of things, but in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

We had limited time available so Kathleen chose to visit the Balcony House ruin.  Balcony House had some "challenging" portions that required reasonable physical strength and normal body proportions.  The cliff dwellings were in the formation just below the caprock.

At the base of the ruins was a seep-spring that served as one of the water sources for the cliff dwelling.

There was a 100' hand-crafted ladder that had to be ascended to get to the ruins.

The masses ascend the ladder.  It was a bit scary, but mostly because of the large amount of meat on the ladder at the same time that was causing it to flop around.

Katleen and I were in the first group to reach the ruins so we had a mostly-unobstructed view of the first portion of the ruins.

The natives that built these dwellings had highly motivated to lug all the rock and mortar up the cliff to build the walls.  The general dogma is that they were afraid of being attacked and therefore sought the safety of the cliffs to thwart attacks.  This pueblo had a captive seep-spring within the dwelling so theoretically it could hold out until the food supply ran out.

From the ruins, we got a view of the masses ascending the ladder.  We suspect that the fellow in the red shirt will have to turn back.

Portions of the ruins have been refurbished as part of the conservation efforts.

The next section of the ruins had twin kivas, both visible in the photo above.

The roof of the rock alcove provided shelter from the elements.  Inner walls were built all the way to the roof.  Notice the door that has been closed off.

Portions of the interior walls had collapsed and were subject to reconstruction.

Note the steel reinforcements on the walls to prevent further deterioration.

The kivas were deep and when the pueblo was occupied it was covered with a timber, brush and clay roof.

The low wall on the floor of the kiva is an air diffuser.  The air vents are the square holes close to the kiva walls.  Air comes down the shaft and is directed into the main chamber of the kiva and then diffused by the low wall to improve temperature control in the room.

Looking down into kiva's air shaft.

The second portion of the pueblo was actually quite large.  The tour guide estimated that there were 30-40 people that resided in the pueblo.

The exit passage was only 18" wide which required me to scrunch my shoulders together.  We were sure that there were other members in the group that would not fit and had to descend the ladder and go back the way we came.  This tunnel was the method used to provide defensibility for the pueblo.  Any intruder coming through this passed would get smashed in head with a rock before they could enter the main pueblo.

The exit from the tunnel ended in another steep ladder followed by Moki steps cut into the stone walls.  Kathleen was behind me and shot the photo above.

The cliff face was quite steep and the ladder would take climbers single file.

We left Balcony House and drove the loop that provide views of the other ruins.  This is Square Tower House, named after the structure on the right.

Thor is visible in the trees above the Square Tower House.

Every alcove had structures of some kind.  How the occupants got to the second level is a mystery.

I believe this is Cliff Palace pueblo, the biggest ruin in Mesa Verde.

The remarkable thing about this particular ruin is that every square inch of horizontal area has been utilized for dwellings.  Note the square tower at the top center of the photo.  How did they access that?

This alcove had some substantial retaining walls that were built to increase the liveable space. A lot of material was moved to create this set of dwellings.

Big portions of these walls had collapsed.

Mesa Verde is a one-of-a-kind place.  Our mistake was only allocating one day to see the place.  It would be easy to spend 3 days at the park seeing all the ruins.  If you are anywhere close to Mesa Verde, you should plan to visit.  Just beware that due to the volume of visitors, the NPS now requires tickets to visit each ruin to control the total number of folks at each ruin.  Therefore, planning ahead is a requirement to be able to see the specific ruins of interest.

From Mesa Verde, we headed east to Durango to visit our friends Brad and Laura.

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