Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Cliff Palace and Balcony House Hikes (Mesa Verde National Park)

One of the highlights of our visit to Mesa Verde National Park was two docent led hikes to the ancient cliff ruins of Balcony House and Cliff Palace. In order to preserve the fragile remains, and because getting to and from them can be a little tricky, visitors are not allowed to visit these ruins unattended. The hikes included winding around the sides of mountains using toe-holds and rope railings, climbing up and down 32-foot ladders, and at times squeezing through small tunnels through the rocks. If you aren't claustrophobic or afraid of heights, these hikes are well worth the extra effort to catch a glimpse into how the people of this region lived in the past.

Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America and was constructed and refurbished continuously from 1190 CE through 1260 CE. Constructed primarily out of sandstone mortar, and wooden beams, it contains 23 kivas (round sunken rooms of ceremonial importance), 150 rooms, and had a population of approximately 100 people. It is thought that Cliff Palace was a social and administrative site with high ceremonial usage, stemming from the higher ratio of rooms to kivas (9 to1, as opposed to the average of 12 to 1 in other cliff dwellings in the area).

Balcony House is set on a high ledge facing east. It has 45 rooms and 2 kivas, and illustrates how room and passageway construction evolved through time. With its well-preserved rooms, kivas, and plazas, Balcony House stands as a tribute to the Pueblo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico who built and occupied the site in the 13th century.