Friday, May 5, 2017

Mesa Verde: the Green Table-Mountain is Greening Up

View southwest from Point Lookout Trail, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.
Point Lookout Trail, along the North Rim, Mesa Verde National Park.
Mesa Verde is Spanish for "green table". Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado encompasses that "table", which is actually a tilted one (a cuesta, in geologic terms).

It's a high table, deeply dissected by canyons that flow (when there is any flowing water) to the south. The "mesa" is also titled toward the south. Between these two conditions, it came to be home to the largest cliff dwellings in North America.

Square Tower House cliff dwelling, Mesa Verde.
This particular mesa is a high desert environment for most of the year, though it's position on the surrounding landscape, high above the Montezuma Valley and the Mancos Valley, causes it to wring significantly more moisture out of passing storm fronts, making it more like a mountain environment.

Point Lookout, the very northern edge of Mesa Verde.
And since its uppermost surfaces are also tilted toward the south, toward the sun, it's like a giant solar panel. The combination of more moisture than the surrounding valleys, along with the solar-panel effect of a longer growing season, meant that corn could be grown here. In abundance. And it was, along with beans and squash, by the Ancestral Puebloan people, until about 700 years ago, when they migrated onward, out of here. To the south.

From the northern edge of Point Lookout.
 It's springtime at Mesa Verde, and the green tilted table-mountain is quickly greening up. No Ancestral Puebloan people plant their corn seeds up there anymore. Native Americans do continue to worship the place as sacred, though. While the tourist crowds flock to it to see what they have left behind, and to savor the views that they did when they lived there. The National Park Service rangers do all they can to balance the land with the crowds. They do a superb job overall.

Looking north from atop Point Lookout, onto the Mancos Valley and the La Plata Mountains.
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© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

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