In Colorado: Mesa Verde

John Turner
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The cliff dwellings constructed in crevices along the canyon walls in Mesa Verde are fairly well-known to the public because they've been photographed so often. But the pictures -- including the ones here -- aren't adequate to convey their reality. That the structures have lasted for almost a thousand years is remarkable in itself but their being built where they are is even more striking. What was it that caused people to fashion genuine cities in a stony cracks halfway down canyon walls?
There's an outlook on the drive out of Mesa Verde called Geographic Point, and it was there my wife Shirley insisted we stay and watch the sun go down. I wasn't as eager about it as she was because I was hungry and wanted to get down into Cortez and find a restaurant. Besides, as the afternoon faded, it got breezy and fairly chilly up there. But, all in all, I'm glad we stayed. The sunset, as you can see from these pictures, was arresting. The peak in the distance is part of "The Sleeping Ute." The mountain is formed by the chief's arms folded on his chest. I wish I could show you the scene to the north and east, which is stupendous from there. But we neglected to take a picture of it.

The chinked walls demonstrate that hours were spent shaping small stones, some of them far smaller than the tip of your finger, to fill every tiny opening. And that's what has kept the walls intact over all the succeeding centuries. It's a mystery that has few comparisons in the modern conception of life.

I don't suppose we'll ever actually know the answer. But to walk among the ruins tells you that the people who built them did it very carefully, with a kind of patience that may well have disappeared from earth.