August 9, Day 69: We saw Mesa Verde Cliff Palace, and it took our breath away. Tucked beneath a massive natural alcove, it looks like a toy village at a distance until you zoom in and realize the scale. Over 600 smaller structures remain in the park, often lined across the valley from one another for easy communication. The ruins evidence a large population that thrived here 800 years ago.
I had always supposed that the Puebloans built the dwellings above fields in the canyon floor, like European castles. Quite the opposite, we learned. Crops mainly were grown above on the mesa, and the villages built below, in the alcoves. Why? Rainfall in the desert quickly drained through the porous sandstone strata above until it hit shale. The water then flowed horizontally and over eons, created the alcoves. When the Puebloans arrived, the alcoves provided both shelter and a permanent water supply from the seeps. Little water makes its way to the valley floor, even in heavy rains.
Typically, you can hike down to the Cliff Palace; due to COVID, it was closed. We had only the distant view but were grateful for the opportunity. After a morning viewing, we were on the road again, headed to Arches National Park in Utah.