We spent last week at the “green table”, a.k.a. Mesa Verde….and it was incredible. Incredible history, incredible structures, incredibly good times with incredible people.
First the history….
Mesa Verde translated means “green table”. The cuesta (gently sloping plateau) that is Mesa Verde sits at about 7,000 feet. During the time of the Ancestral Puebloans (about 550 to 1285 A.D.) it was a massive dry farm, covered with corn, beans and squash. The people relied on residual soil moisture, left from winter snows, to germinate the seeds and on summer monsoons to water them. And it worked. Crops grew and villages thrived. Experts estimate that 22,000 people lived there at the beginning of the 13th century.
The people were small—men averaged 5’4” to 5’5” and women 5’0” to 5’1”—and young. The average life span for men was 50 years and women 35. Initially they wove baskets from yucca and other fibers. They began pottery making and developed a distinct black-on-white decorative style. They used turkey bones for needles and wove blankets and shawls from turkey feathers and rabbit hides. Trading brought macaw feathers, sea shells, cotton, and turquoise to their villages.
Some of the science used to date the artifacts is fascinating (at least it is to me). Juniper and pinyon pine wood is highly rot resistant, even in a moist environment. In Mesa Verde’s arid air, it is almost eternal. Dendrochronology (using tree rings to determine age and climate conditions) has been used extensively to document both dates and droughts. Neutron activation analysis shows that the clay used to make their pottery originated locally. They can even tell when the last fires were built in the fire pits by analyzing iron found in the surrounding soils. When iron is heated sufficiently the iron atoms become somewhat plastic and reorient to align with Earth’s current magnetic pole. Because the Earth’s magnetic pole fluctuates and because we have geologic documentation of those fluctuations, scientists can look at the magnetic alignment of the iron atoms in the soil and determine when those atoms realigned…which tells them when the last fire was built in the fire pit. Wow!
Second the structures…..
Initially the people at Mesa Verde lived in pit houses dug on the mesa top. Later they moved to pit houses dug in cliff alcoves. They moved back up to the surface and built homes with mud and stick and later stone and mortar walls. It was not until the last 100 or so years of their time at Mesa Verde that they built the incredible cliff dwellings for which they are famous.
And those cliff dwellings are indeed incredible. Towers of three and four stories, storage rooms on seemingly inaccessible cliff shelves, round-walled, underground kivas complete with air ventilation systems, and hundreds and hundreds of rooms, all built with rectangular sandstone blocks, carved and shaped without metal tools and stuck together with a mixture of mud and sand. Many inside walls were plastered and painted. And did I mention that these intricately designed, fashioned-by-hand, fitted-to-the-curved-walls-of-alcove buildings were often built in cliff ledges so high and so inaccessible that one wonders how the people themselves got there? Thinking about how they got their building materials there is truly mind boggling. (Clearly OSHA was not a factor…..)
Finally, good times with good people……
We (Lance, Miles, Grace and I) spent the week with the Dragos (Michelle, Joe, and Brandon). What a priceless gift righteous friends are! It is so nice (SO NICE) to share camping adventures with people who understand my need for frequent potty stops, who are patient with my quests to find the right pair of earrings, and who guilelessly and earnestly discuss what it means to live up to one’s privileges as a follower of Christ. I love it that Joe is a carnivore (bacon AND sausage for breakfast!!), that Brandon can keep up with Grace hiking (something I cannot do anymore) and that Michelle packs enough food and drink to feed a medium-sized army (seven coolers for five days). Lance and Miles love it that Joe always finds a fishing spot (both because they love fishing and because more fishing means less hiking….) and I love it that Michelle is always game for a good hike.
One story and then I am done….
While on tour of Long House Lance glanced down and saw a pottery shard about the size of a large tortilla chip. It was somewhat faded but had obviously been fired and had decorations on one side. The next day Lance asked a Ranger if they ever “planted” shards on the cliff dwelling sites. She looked at him like he was the biggest idiot she’d dealt with for weeks—which says a lot for a Ranger in a popular national park in the summer. “No,” she responded. “Occasionally a shard will work its way to the surface and be found but it is very, very, VERY rare.” That’s my Lance! Very rare!!!
Also very rare is the opportunity to slow down, sit down, and slim down. Okay, I did not slim down. Michelle’s fabulous cooking totally prevented that. But I did slow down—no getting up at 4:30 a.m., no working on the computer, no weeding the garden, riding the bike, or washing the clothes—and I did sit down. Sitting down in the truck (I love my truck!!) , listening to Lance teach us about the Arab Spring, the Vietnam Conflict, and current events in Europe, Russia, and North Korea and sharing my college, work, and relationship stories with Miles and Grace (they asked for them, honest!) during our (very long) drive time together will be one of my favorite trip memories.
Thank God for America! Relatively few of Earth’s inhabitants have the political and economic freedom required to take trips such as the one we just enjoyed. I am so grateful to be an American. I am grateful for the beauties of places like Mesa Verde and the Colorado Rockies (which we drove through which is why our drive home was VERY long). I am grateful for the country’s relative economic prosperity that allows most of its citizens the ability to take a week off from work and still be able to “feed the family” so to speak. I am grateful for political freedoms that allow us to travel, leaving our state, even our country, at will. I am grateful for the ability to respectfully speak my mind and to openly exercise my faith. I am grateful for the opportunity to educate and to be educated. God has indeed blessed America and I feel very blessed to be an American. May we live in such a way that He can continue to bless us!!