For my first full day at Mesa Verde National Park on Tuesday I sought out the largest cliff dwelling. And the position of the sun in the sky determined when I photographed it.
Mesa Verde offers so much to do that I had to be picky. I focused both literally and figuratively on Cliff Palace, the largest Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling anywhere. Once it probably had more than 200 rooms, of which 151 remain, including 23 kivas.
Cliff Palace has an incredible location, 100 feet below an overhanging ledge of rock. I appreciated the location all the more when I hiked down to it and then back up. I took this photo from part way down:
When I finally climbed down all the ladders to Cliff Palace, this view of the south side of the cliff dwelling presented itself to me:
Kivas are underground chambers that were ceremonial rooms. The Ancestral Puebloans probably used kivas for healing rites or to pray for rain, luck in hunting, or for a good crop. They were also comfortable gathering places with beam-and-mud roofs. They were not baptismal fonts, as I had imagined, and weren’t even used to store water:
Aside from the kivas, the only round structure at Cliff Palace is this tower. A ranger told me that because unskillful archeologists excavated Cliff Palace more than 100 years ago, we have no idea now why the Ancestral Puebloans built this tower:
Finally, I was also able to photograph wildlife for the first time on this road trip:
Only once before had I ever seen a flock of wild turkeys. I wasn’t able to get any photographs then. But on Tuesday I was able to follow them through open country for a while before photographing this bird. It looks remarkably familiar.