Colorado Plateau Photo Odyssey 15: Mesa Verde

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Mesa Verde National Park, in southwest Colorado, features some of the best preserved archeological sites in North America, with nearly 5,000 sites and 600 cliff dwellings. After finishing up at Arches National Park, I headed off for the two and a half hour drive to Mesa Verde NP. The park covers a lot of ground. To get from the entrance to the major concentration of cliff dwellings takes about three-quarters of an hour. The major sites (at least of those that can be seen or toured in the off season) are in the Mesa Top and Cliff Palace Loops section of the park:

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The three main touring sites are Spruce Tree House, Cliff Palace, and Balcony House. Spruce Tree House is a self-guided tour. The others are ranger-led tours. For photography purposes, both the Spruce Tree House and the Cliff Palace face west, making them best photographed in the afternoon. In late April, when I arrived at Mesa Verde, Cliff Palace closed at 6:30 PM. The last tour for Cliff Palace was at 5 PM. I bought tickets for the 5 PM tour and stopped off at Spruce Tree House around 3:30 in the afternoon.

Spruce Tree House is considered the best preserved of Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings. It’s built in a rather deep cave-like indenture in the side of the canyon:

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As can be seen, you’re likely to have some company at Spruce Tree House. More pics:

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From the inside, these structures look like this:

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You’re allowed to climb a ladder down into a cellar-like place, presumably used for storage:

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Cliff Palace is the largest of the cliff dwellings, containing 150 rooms and 23 kivas. In its day, it supported a population of approximately 100 people. The structures rise along the side of the appropriately named “Cliff” canyon:

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The ranger-led tour allows one to get a closer look of these amazing ruins:

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Inside this tower are some decorative paintings. Here’s a shot of a photographer trying to take them:

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Notice the tripod on the left. You’re not supposed to bring tripods on tours, but somehow, this photographer got away with it. Here’s a shot of the interior of the square house:

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Building square towers was all the rage with the people who constructed these cliff dwellings. My favorite of the ruins is the appropriately named “Square Tower House.” These are not ruins that are easily visited. There used to be ranger led hikes to this location, but there don’t seem to be any scheduled for 2013. Going to one of these ruins without supervision is illegal.

From the overlook, Square Tower House looks like this:

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To photograph this site requires a telephoto lens. An 100mm FF equivalent will get you this shot:

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A 150mm FF equivalent will get you this shot:

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As I was driving back to my motel room in Cortez, I made a quick stop-off at the Far View Sites:

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I also stopped off to get a few quick snaps at the Montezuma Valley Overlook:

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