Day 19 - Moab to Grand Canyon NP  
    Late afternoon on Route 160 near Kayenta, Arizona    
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

After a couple of great days in Moab, Day 19 of our journey was to be one spent predominantly on the road. We had booked to spend the night at the Yavapai Lodge at the Grand Canyon, and as a result we had a drive of 384 miles ahead of us.

On the way to the Grand Canyon we had decided to visit Mesa Verde NP, where ancient Puebloans had lived from approximately AD 550 to AD 1300, and had left their artifacts and dwellings for later generations of visitors to find.

Mesa Verde is, of course, a mesa - a broad, flat topped expanse of land surrounded by cliffs that fall away to streams below. Situated about ten miles from Cortez, the name in Spanish literally means "green table", reflecting the fact that the land on top of the mesa is quite fertile. In fact, it was probably the quality of the land that brought the first inhabitants to Mesa Verde.

Part of the ruins of Far View House, rising out of the scrub and trees that now cover the mesa.
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala

Upon entering the park, the first major site to visit is the Far View Community, situated approximately 16 miles from the park entrance. Located at Far View are a collection of ancient ruins from different stages of the occupation, with structures dating from AD 800 right through to the end of the occupation of the mesa top.

The first inhabitants of Mesa Verde were farmers, growing beans and corn, and supplementing their diets with hunting for small game such as rabbits and squirrels. They built dwellings that were covered pits, dug several feet into the soil with a sloping roof of timber. Now called pit-houses, these were the forerunners of the buildings that were later to spring up as the Ancestral Puebloans became more skilled in masonry. The initial inhabitants used intricately woven baskets to carry and store food and water, the latter enabled through lining the baskets with pitch. Tools included bone awls and scrapers, and stone knives, manufactured from tough river pebbles, rather than the soft sandstone of the mesa.

Detail from one of the walls of the Far View House.
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC W.Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala

Over the centuries the area around the Far View House became heavily populated, with over 50 villages within a half square mile area. It was the home to hundereds of people, and several of the dwellings have been excavated by archeologists and can now be visited, proving insight into this community. The Far view house was originally two story, with forty rooms on the ground floor, and an unknown number on the second story. Given its size, it is speculated that it was possibly a public building, occupied by the leaders of the community.

Within the Far View House walls are four underground rooms, circular pits dug into the ground which were roofed and accessed by a ladder from the centre of the roof, which was at ground level. Called "kivas" after the Hopi word for ceremonial room, it is believed that the ancestral Puebloans used these rooms for rituals, and also probably as gathering places. These kivas have been discovered at many of the ruin sites, and are considered to have played a vital role in the ancient society.

A view of a kiva at the Far View Tower, a short walk from Far View House.
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC W.Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala

A short walk from the Far View House is Far View Tower, a ruin that once comprised a dwelling of 16 rooms including a two story circular tower, and three kivas. This type of structure was very common, with nearly 60 circular towers identified on Mesa Verde. We can only speculate as to their purpose, but the excellent construction of of the towers, incorporating two course stonework, indicates that they were made to last. This is one of the last dwellings constructed at Mesa Verde, dating to the 1200's.

David and I spent about an hour walking around the ruins at Far View, entering the buildings open to the public and marvelling at an ancient society that could generate enough food through intensive agriculture to support a society of this size and apparent wealth for so many years. The communal nature of the society at Far View is further evidenced by the fact that the settlement includes a man made lake, surrounded by a stone wall, that collected run-off water from a catchment of approximately 25 acres. The construction of the lake and the channels that directed the run-off water to the reservoir must have been a very significant task for the community.

In the lower elevations at the foot of the mesa the Ancestral Puebloans had originally lived in shelters within cliff alcoves around the edge of the mesa. When the society developed its skills in masonry they subsequently moved to the top of the mesa, just like the inhabitants of Far View. However, about AD 1200 the Pueblans moved back to the cliff alcoves, and built the cliffside dwellings that have made Mesa Verde so famous. The reasons for this move are unknown, but it is speculated that climatic conditions changed, making the top of the mesa less pleasant for habitation.

The view from the side of the mesa, near the Cliff Palace ruins.
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC W.Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala

Driving further onto the mesa, David and I headed to the Cliff Palace ruins, the largest of the cliff dwelling sites at Mesa Verde. The National Parks Service runs a tour of the site, for which we had picked up tickets at the visitors' centre, and we were looking forward to seeing for ourselves the sights that had caused Congress to declare the area a National Park in 1906. Of the over 4,000 archeological sites discovered within the park, approximately 600 are cliff dwellings. The protection provided by the alcoves has left these in relatively good condition, providing an amazing insight into the cultural highpoint of the Ancestral Puebloan society, from approximately AD 1100 to 1300.

A tour group learns about the purpose of the kivas, while standing around the rim of one at Cliff Palace.
Minolta X-570 with 85mm f/2 MD Tele Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji Superia Reala

The tour of the Cliff Palace ruins was outstanding, with the Ranger giving real insight into the daily life and society of the ancient inhabitants. I strongly recommend that if you visit Mesa Verde you ensure you do the tour. Comprising over 200 rooms, the Cliff Palace is certainly impressive, and while there are better preserved cliff dwellings within the park, it is an experience not to be missed.

Detail of part of the ruins at Cliff Palace. Note the "penthouse" apartment at the top!.
Minolta X-570 with 85mm f/2 MD Tele Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji Superia Reala

The structures in the cliff dwellings are made from sandstone, held together by the use of mortar and wooden beams. In fact, it is through the analysis of samples from these beams that archeologists have been able to accurately date the construction of the buildings. The structures are mainly single course construction, probably because the cliff provided protection from the elements, reducing the need for thicker walls.

A view which provides a good indication of the protection provided by the cliff above.
Minolta XD7 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC Rokkor. Film: Fuji NPZ 800

The buildings were originally covered in what is called plaster, being a thick white paint-like substance. In most of the exposed walls this has disappeared over time, leaving the underlying stonework showing, but originally the structures were probably bright white, and I am sure they would have been a very impressive sight. In one structure at Cliff Palace it is possible to look up into the ruin, and still see an area of wall that remains plastered, and interestingly, decorated with paintings.

Ancient paintings and plaster walls at Cliff Palace.
Minolta XD7 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji NPZ 800

So why did the inhabitants leave Mesa Verde? Well the increase in temperature that encouraged the Ancestral Puebloans to move back to the cliff alcoves continued to impact on the environment, and in AD 1276 drought struck the region. For 23 years rain was very scarce, and one by one the springs and creeks around the mesa dried up. The inhabitants needed a dependable water supply, and so people left village after village, finally abandoning Mesa Verde altogether.


The protection from the sun provided by the cliff must have been a real relief for the inhabitants of the cliff dwellings.
Minolta XD7 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji NPZ 800

There is such a lot to see at Mesa Verde that it really requires at least a day, not the couple of hours that David and I had to spare on our visit. After visiting Cliff Palace we drove to some of the other ruins, but all of the cliff dwellings require at least 45 minutes to visit, and our time was very limited, so we satisfied ourselves with viewing them from afar. In hindsight, I wished that we had made time to visit Spruce Tree House at least, the best preserved of all of the cliff sites, but alas time was against us. With hundreds of miles yet to go, we headed back to the main road and on toward the Grand Canyon.

The road from Mesa Verde to the Grand Canyon passes directly past the Four Corners Monument, recording the joining point of four states - Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The actual corner is situated within Navajo territory, and undoubtedly the money generated by tourism goes a long way towards supporting the local residents, as evidenced by the proliferation of tourist shanties around the monument.

Quite a disclaimer!
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala
The four corners monument was not what I would call the high-point of the day's drive, but nevertheless I did get a chance to sample some very good frybread, which no doubt did wonders for my cholesterol! Of course I also had to get the obligatory photo of me spanning the States.
Me proving my butt is big enough to cover four states!
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala
After our brief break it was back on the road again, we still had a long way to travel before bed. Driving through the Arizona countryside we saw some amazing rock formations, not surprising considering how close we were to Monument Valley. In fact, that very proximity made it all that much harder to drive right by the turnoff that would have taken us there. By this stage I was cursing that I hadn't built in an extra day or two of travel time, and the only thing that helped to temper my anguish was the fact that the next morning I would see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon.
An example of the sights along Route 160 - even though just a taste of what Monument Valley has to offer, it was outstanding nonetheless.
Minolta X-570 with 85mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala
One very interesting thing was that for several hours driving the side of the road was littered with broken glass. It honestly seemed that there was not a foot of roadside for probably a hundred miles that did not have a piece of broken glass on it. It seems obvious that the inhabitants of the Navaho Nation are not as particular about where they discard their empty beer and spirit bottles as one might hope, and despite the fact that it was actually very pretty, twinkling in the sinking sun, it was very disappointing to think that someone would treat the environment in such a way, let alone their livers. The sheer number of bottles it would take to account for the amount of glass we saw is simply mind boggling.
A typical roadside along Route 160 - The broken glass was truly appalling
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

After a very long day's travel, David and I arrived at Yavapai Lodge on the Grand Canyon's South Rim at about midnight. It was a big day, but we had made it and tomorrow I was going to experience dawn at the Grand Canyon!

To Day 20 - Grand Canyon NP
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