Saturday, July 3, 2010

Mesa Verde road trip, Day 4: Petroglyph Point and Spruce Tree House

I have a lesson to blog about, but first, another installment of vacation pictures. (Click here for the full list of posts about our vacation to Mesa Verde.)

After taking pictures of the wild horses, we continued on to the parking area for Spruce Tree House. We'd left Durango later than intended, so it was already mid-afternoon. As a result, we decided to skip Spruce Tree House. We were much more interested in hiking the Petroglyph Point Trail.

The hike is nearly 3 miles. From the parking area at the top of the mesa, the trail takes you down into the canyon, where it splits — one way takes you to Spruce Tree House, halfway up the other side of the canyon, and the other way takes you to the Petroglyph Point Trail and another trail.

Petroglyph Point Trail in Mesa Verde National Park

The Petroglyph Point Trail winds along the canyon, slowly climbing the far side. Before you know it, you're up here:

Petroglyph Point Trail in Mesa Verde National Park

...and the parking area is way behind you, on the other side of the canyon. It was kind of an alarming moment for us, to realize how far away we were.

It wasn't a terribly difficult trail, as most of it was a gentle grade, but it was still darn good exercise. There were a few times you had to climb up or down through the rocks, but you usually had either makeshift steps made of big rocks (probably made by the park service) or the Anasazi's original toeholds, shallow depressions carved into the rock, big enough for my feet (barely) but not for Michael's.

Someone who passed us on the trail told us we were coming up to some ruins, but that we'd have to turn around to see them, as they would be behind us on the cliff. From down below the rock ledge, we couldn't see them, but once the trail climbed to the top, we could walk back onto the ledge.

There was a ancient stone wall that was low enough to climb over. I guess at one time it was probably a much larger wall, intended to offer some protection and seclusion to the people living in the dwellings. There isn't much left of the dwellings now — mostly just the suggestion of rooms. The ceiling of the cave is still stained soot black from the smoke of a cooking fire that was built 700 (or more) years ago.

Petroglyph Point Trail in Mesa Verde National Park

These little ruins are scattered throughout the canyons, but this is the only one we got to see this close, other than the guided tours.

The trail continued to climb. Although the day before had been hot and sunny, a rainstorm was moving in, and it sprinkled on us on and off throughout the hike. Once it rained much harder for about ten minutes, and we sat in a small cave — almost no more than an overhang — and waited it out.

We started getting closer to the mesa, and wondering when these petroglyphs would show up...

Petroglyph Point Trail in Mesa Verde National Park

...when suddenly there they were! They were made by chipping through the desert varnish on the surface of the sandstone, to reveal the light-colored rock underneath. The symbols are apparently very similar to modern-day Hopi symbols, so they know that the glyphs tell the story of either how the people came to Mesa Verde, or their plans to leave and migrate south.

And no, I'm not touching the petroglyphs — my hand is several inches from the rock. I just thought it was interesting that the hand carvings were about the same size as mine. I wonder what the purpose of the hands were — signatures of the artists, perhaps? Were they painted or left the color of the rock?

Petroglyph Point Trail in Mesa Verde National Park

Soon after we passed the petroglyphs, the trail took us up some more toeholds onto the top of the mesa, and we hiked back to the parking area along the top of the canyon. I loved seeing the flowering cacti that grew up here:

Petroglyph Point Trail in Mesa Verde National Park

The view was larger than life. My husband offered to stand at the edge for this picture.

Petroglyph Point Trail in Mesa Verde National Park

We had to hike around the curves in the canyon in order to get back. Once we got to the other side, we discovered that Michael had been standing right over Spruce Tree House when he posed for that picture.

Petroglyph Point Trail in Mesa Verde National Park

Spruce Tree House:

Petroglyph Point Trail in Mesa Verde National Park

We were exhausted by this time — the hike had taken us 2 hours, and although the way back was flat and easy, most of the hike was through the canyon. We decided to skip the other hike we were going to do, and instead just drove around Mesa Top Loop to get pictures of the other cliff dwellings throughout the canyon. I'll post pictures of those next!



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