• Ecology of the Southwest

The Mystery of Mesa Verde

Today we visited the Mesa Verde national park near Mancos, Colorado. The national park sits within the "four corners" region of the Southwest - where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet.

The Mesa Verde area was inhabited until the late 13th century A.D. by the "Pueblo" people - a group including a few Native American tribes who lived in what has been coined "Pueblos" - intricate structures made of sandstone and mortar. In the late 1100s, the Pueblos moved their structures (literally moving and recycling the same building materials) from on top of the mesa down into canyon caves. In these caves, visitors can still see these amazingly preserved structures, and can even descend into subterranean sacred rooms called "kivas."

These structures have stirred up a controverial mystery. The Pueblo people, only decades after moving their villages into the canyon, seem to have abandoned Mesa Verde in the late 1200s. Theories as to why they did so range from harsh climate to violent attack to religious revival, and they each have their supporting evidence and their weaker points. Still, archeaological research clearly points to a mass abandonment of the region and the structures which the Pueblo people had worked so hard to construct.

While the true reason for the Pueblo's abandonment of Mesa Verde is likely a combination of these factors, each theory has its own truth. We took a fantastic tour with David, our charismatic guide, who ended his talk with an interesting point. Although the structures are amazing, the true wonder of this park is not that the Pueblos built them, but that they had the strength to leave them. Whatever drove them away, it must have been dangerous, and their migration led to their survival as a culture and people.

Thursday morning, we'll go out for a sunrise hike, and then make our way to Arizona!

The "Spruce House" ruin, tucked inside the canyon's edge
Our wonderful tour guide, David
Students hard at work, jotting plant identification notes
We braved the "poison ivy" path to see these giant icicles
Checking out the ruins