Our main objective for stopping in Cortez was to visit nearby Mesa Verde National Park. In Cortez, we parked at La Mesa RV Park.
At around 500 A.D., groups of Native Americans living in the four corners region began moving onto Mesa Verde. The four corners area consists of southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah. These groups had already developed farming skills and no longer needed to remain mobile in order to follow game migrations. So they could “put down roots” so to speak and stay put in one place.
They began to build structures in small villages or pueblos. They used stone and other local materials. These Puebloans built many such villages on the top of Mesa Verde and remained there for the next 700 or 800 years. At around 1100 A.D. they began building pueblos in natural alcoves that occur in the cliff face below the top of the mesa. It is assumed that this provided them additional protection from the elements as well as from predators. Many of these pueblos are remarkably well preserved in Mesa Verde National Park.
We toured one of the largest pueblos, Long House. It consists of 150 rooms and over 23 kivas. The “kiva” is a round subterranean room that has many functions, including domestic residence along with social and ceremonial purposes. The pueblo has rooms for storing food and artifacts as well as rooms for certain artisans to work. Most likely 100 to 150 people lived at Long House. We also toured Balcony House and a couple of other smaller pueblos. We could only view Cliff Palace from an overlook since it is currently closed for restoration activities. It is perhaps the most photographed site and the largest at Mesa Verde having one more room than Long House.
By the end of the 13th century, the Puebloans abandoned Mesa Verde entirely and moved further south along the Rio Grande River, settling in northern New Mexico. Many descendants of these ancient Puebloans can be found in that area as well as in Arizona.
While in Cortez we drove down the see the Four Corners National Monument. It is the only place in the United States where the borders of four states converge on a single point: Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. It also marks the boundary between two Native American governments, the Navajo Nation and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. Yes, it’s just a political boundary but it has become a popular tourist destination in spite of its relatively remote location.
Next stop: Monticello, UT