Mesa Verde National Park reminds us: All the World’s a stage!
A view from Mesa Verde one of the oldest remaining habitations, built by human hands. (Mesa Verde Museum Association Photo)
By Audrey Peterman
Welcome to Day # 112 of our “365 Parks in 365 Days” adventure! This morning Frank and I are leaving for St. Petersburg by 7:30 a.m., and I am filled with anticipation because there’s hardly anything more fun than driving across the Everglades early in the morning. The profusion of birds rising from their roosts in the cypress trees includes giant white wood storks, large elegant Great Blue Herons, huge white herons and egrets; ibises, egrets; hawks, grackles and vultures. These birds have evolved in this niche for over 5,000 years along with other denizens of the “River of Grass” such as the mighty alligators that we’ll see sunning themselves beside the sloughs.
With that thought in mind, coupled with the need for speed, on Day #112 we are headed for Mesa Verde National Park in Utah, one of the Top Ten units I am most looking forward to visiting. Hard to believe I haven’t made it here yet, since this park draws me with a spiritual lure. It protects one of the oldest-known habitations developed by human hands on the North American continent. Friends who’ve visited even more parks than I (my friend Greg is up to 300-plus!) tell me that it’s one of the most stirring and evocative units in the system.
For years my imagination has been fired by the experiences and ingenuity of the Ancestral Puebloan people who developed civilization here more than 1400 years ago, and lived here continuously over 700 years. How different their lives must have been from ours today! And what changed in their environment that caused them to abandon these dwellings in the early 1200s? I believe they have serious lessons to teach us, and the park’s archaeologists and cultural anthropologists are working to un-earth and decipher them.
This park reminds me of nothing so much as the caution inherent in Shakespeare’s observation:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women
They have their exits and their
And one man in his time plays
His acts being seven ages. ….
…. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful
Is second childishness and
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste,
Not one of us – no matter how apparently powerful and mighty – is here forever. How will our
life count when we have moved off the stage?
My friend who works at Mesa Verde is preparing to lead us on a tour in the near future, but today my desire is merely to inspire and whet your appetite for a visit to this living time capsule.
According to the Park Service:
“About 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Then, in the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away. Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular reminder of this ancient culture. . .
“As the first national park set aside to “preserve the works of man,” Mesa Verde National Park also contains a rich diversity of natural resources worthy of national park status. The park includes 8,500 acres of federally designated wilderness and is a Class I air shed, the highest standards set by Congress under the Clean Air Act. Park Mesa, in the southeast section of the park, has been designated a Research Natural Area.
Research Natural Areas are managed to maintain the natural features for which they were established, and to maintain natural processes.
They are excellent areas for studying ecosystems or their component parts and for monitoring succession and other long-term ecological change.
“Mesa Verde (Spanish for green table), occupies just over 52,000 acres of the Colorado Plateau. The correct geological term for the area is cuesta. Cuestas are similar to mesas, but instead of being relatively flat, they gently dip in one direction. Mesa Verde is inclined slightly to the south at about a seven degree angle and has been highly dissected by wind and water erosion into a series of canyons and ‘mesas.’ Elevations range from about 6,000 feet in the canyon bottoms near the southern park boundary to 8,572 feet at Park Point, about 10 miles north.
“Visible geologic formations in the park date to the late Cretaceous Period, from 90 million to 78 million years ago, and consist largely of sand-stones and shales. The three youngest of these formations – the Cliff House, the Menefee, and the Point Lookout – are known collectively as the Mesa Verde Group. Also present are several dikes of intrusive igneous rock, as well as river gravels, transported from nearby mountains, which were used by the Ancestral Puebloans for tools.