We decided to take a trip to visit Cripple Creek, a gold mining town west of Pikes Peak. Gold was discovered here in the 1890’s. There are numerous mines including one right in town. The town is mostly old buildings circa 1896 as most wood buildings were destroyed in a fire that year.
In order to get gold ore from the mines around town, they built a narrow gauge rail line from town to the mines. Standard gauge for railroads is 4′-8 1/2″. This line is 2 ft.
The engines are coal fired steam. The actual engines used date from the 1920’s since the originals no long exist.
Along the line, we saw many old abandoned mines. Mines would stake a claim and dig down about 10 ft. Then they would take samples to be assayed. Assayors would determine how much gold was in the rock then the miner would determine whether it was worth his time to continue mining.
Probably the most famous of the ancient Puebloan sites is Mesa Verde in southwest Colorado. There are over 1,000 archeological sites on the Mesa Verde plateaus, about 600 of them are cliff houses. Most are unexcavated and not accessible to visitors, and most that are accessible are only through a guided tour. We visited one cliff dwelling that didn’t require a guided tour although there was a ranger at the site, and Jeff visited two others with a guided tour. Based on the steep steps and ladders (my hip has been bothering me when climbing up) and on the very small tunnels visitors have to crawl through I decided to stay home.
Cliff Palace is the ‘crown jewel’ of all the sites at Mesa Verde. It really is a palace! The site was excavated to recover artifacts, and the rubble removed and many walls rebuilt so that visitors can see how the ancient puebloans lived here. The Balcony House is also very large and fabulous.
We also walked around some of the pueblo style structures.
We had a great time visiting Mesa Verde – here are some pictures:
There are so many ancient puebloan sites in the southwest Colorado area and we could only visit a few of them. One of the most interesting is Hovenweep which is actually just across the border in Utah. We visited some structures built right along the edges of a canyon which would seem a very strange place to want to live when there is so much flat land around the canyon. One theory of why they built right on the edges of the canyon is to preserve the flat land for farming.
Another unusual feature of many of the structures along the canyon is that they are small but built very tall, resembling towers. Some are round and some are square.
Also in the southwest part of Colorado is a national park called “Canyons of the Ancients”. It’s a large and spread out park containing several areas where ancient Puebloans built structures and lived. Much of the area is only accessible by 4-wheel drive, but we visited one spot called Lowry Pueblo where there is a great house with over 100 rooms and it’s estimated that several hundred people lived there at one time. Like most of the other ancient puebloan sites, it was occupied in the 1100-1200s and was abandoned in the late 1200s. It was previously thought that the abandonment of all the ancient puebloan sites in such a short timeframe had extra-terrestrial roots (ET came and took them) or that there were wars among the native tribes, it is now thought that they simply felt it was time to move along to a new area. There could have been a drought and the resources may have been used up. Modern natives who can trace their ancestry, through oral history, to these sites feel that’s what happened – they decided to move along. Modern natives still visit many of these sites to speak to their ancestors and hold ceremonies.
At Lowry Pueblo some of the walls were reconstructed and some were dug out partially. The interior section of the great house where all the rooms are connected and at least 2 stories high, is protected by a modern roof against further wind and rain erosion. The pueblo is built on a small hill with great 360 degree views!
While in southwest Colorado we wanted to visit Chimney Rock, which is a very interesting natural rock formation. What made it even more interesting is that the ancient puebloans built structures near the rock formations, high on the top of the very steep mountain.
There are actually 2 rocks, chimney rock and companion rock. The ancient puebloans built a great house and kiva, like so many other of their structures, with the north wall aligning along the sunrise at summer solstice. Here at Chimney Rock there’s an added feature that if you look along the northern wall at summer solstice the sun rises not only along the northern wall, but also between the two rock formations. It is thought that this is why they built in such an unlikely place with no water and such a steep climb up to the structures. There are other places where ancient puebloans built structures in what would seem difficult spots but apparently had significance to them. There are smaller structures about halfway up the mountain and it’s thought that most of the people in this area lived there, with the great house and kiva at the summit reserved for the upper class – those who knew how to read the sun, moon and stars and direct the timing of various activities such as planting, hunts, etc.
Just outside of Santa Fe is a little town nestled in steep canyons – Los Alamos. Before WWII it wasn’t a town at all, just some ranches and a boys school. During WWII our country decided we needed to develop an atomic bomb, in large part because we were pretty sure Germany was developing this technology. We had several scientists that had escaped from Germany and knew what was being developed there.
So, the little town was built in secret and scientists from all over the country and from our allies were whisked away in secret to live at Los Alamos and develop nuclear fission before Germany could do it. Many families came with the scientists and all lived in secret – their address was a P.O. Box in Santa Fe, their mail was heavily censored, and they could not travel under their own name but instead used aliases if they had to travel for any reason. There was a woman who ran the office in Santa Fe that managed mail, supplies, anything the folks in Los Alamos needed.
The bomb was designed and a test version was created and set off in the desert near White Sands. It was successful, and a few weeks later Fat Man and Little Boy (the two bombs detonated over Japan) were sent out to end the war!
On a personal note, Jeff’s mother had a cousin who worked on the Manhattan Project and disappeared during the war, coming to Los Alamos. His name was Paul Olum and he was a math genius. Some of his papers are still used today as the basis for certain types of calculations. Here’s his ID picture from the Manhattan Project, which we found in a museum in Los Alamos about the Manhattan Project:
While in the Santa Fe area visited another ancient Pueblo dwelling area, this one encompassing both cliff dwellings and a pueblo walled area similar to Chaco Canyon. The cliffs are composed of “tuff” which is heavily compressed volcanic ash from the Valles caldera, a supervolcano that erupted over 1 million years ago in the area.
The canyon is very pleasant with a stream that runs year-round and lots of trees. This of course means lots of wildlife and the ability to plant and harvest fields in the canyon. The pueblo dwelling containing over a hundred rooms and several large kivas is on a level area above the stream flood area and near to the cliff caves that were enlarged by the ancient Puebloans to make dwellings. The cliff dwellings had some walled rooms built in front of them creating quite a large living and storage area.
We did one of the hikes that took us through the pueblo and up to some of the cliff dwellings. There are many more areas showing where the ancient people lived…but we were at over 7,000 ft and we felt one hike was enough!
We learned an interesting fact while here – we had thought this was an Anasazi site but we were told Anasazi translates to “ancient enemy” in the Navajo language and was incorrect to describe the people who lived here and elsewhere in the Southwest as they were never enemies but instead share common ancesters So, that term is no longer used and instead the term ancient puebloans is used to described the people and sites in this region.
While in Farmington, NM we had to drive to the “Four Corners” – the spot where four states meet. It’s on Navajo land and is administered by the Navajo nation and because of this it’s less developed as you might think. There are vendors booths circling the “spot” which is a medallion in the ground. We joined a line of people waiting to take a picture standing on the spot – Jeff took a picture of his foot on the spot! Here’s a couple of pictures:
While in Farmington we visited the Aztec Ruins. They are NOT really Aztec; when settlers discovered the site in the late 1800s they thought it was an Aztec site and named it. The nearby town is also called Aztec so the name stuck. This is another example of another ancient Puebloan great house, similar to the Chaco Canyon great houses.
This great house was extensively excavated and the large kiva reconstructed in the 1920s-1930s by Lewis Morgan, who grew up in the area and became an archeologist. He took great care to not disturb items found inside the structures and there are many examples of pottery, weaving, etc. that were found. He reconstructed the kiva using modern technology but keeping it as close to the original as he could, including the colors based on remnants that he found. Using modern technology (for the 1920s) it took over 7 months to build the kiva.
One item unique to this site is that the outside walls had bands of dark green stones where the rest of the stones are light gray. It is not known why this was done.
We visited the longest continuously occupied village in North America…Sky City. It was fascinating! The village is located on top of a free standing mesa 367 feet above the valley floor. Through carbon dating, sientists have verified that the village has been occupied since 1100 a.d. and the oral history of the Acoma people who live there indicates a much longer occupancy.
The oral history also mentions that the first mesa to be occupied in this valley was “Enchanted Mesa” which is higher than Sky City. The mesa was abandoned when a fierce thunderstorm and lightning strike destroyed the only path up to the top of the mesa. The people then moved to a nearby mesa and named it Sky City.
Until less than 50 years ago the only way up to Sky City was on foot or with burros up 2 step rock paths. During the 60s a movie was made using the village and in order to accomplish the movie the studio built a paved road for vehicles. The name of the movie is”My name is nobody” and started Henry Fonda. This road is still used today and is the only way up and down except for the foot paths.
The village is still occupied by a few dozen tribe members full time and many more move up temporarily for the two big feast celebrations every year. The village takes up the entire mesa and can house about 4,000 people. It’s very primitive in Sky City; no water or electricity. No sewer…they use outhouses. All supplies including wood for the fires must be brought up from the valley.
The history of the Acoma people is very peaceful until the very late 1500s when Spanish conquistadors found the valley and the mesa. At first they had peaceful relations with the Acoma people, but soon started demanding supplies from the villagers when they came through the area. When the Acoma people refused to hand over all their food and supplies to the Spanish, there was a massacre and the survivors were enslaved to support the Spanish soldiers and to build a Catholic mission church on the mesa which took 11 years and required all able bodied men to hand carry timber and stones from over 70 miles away. The villagers also were forced to convert and stop any “heathen” religious practices. They hid away their religious items and continued their ancient rituals in secret, on fear of death.
Now, the Acoma tribe maintains the mesa village with the tours and visitor center. They also have a casino on their tribal land…but not up on the mesa. Out of respect for the tribal elders and others who live on the mesa, photography is very restricted in the village. We were not allowed inside any structures except the church, and photography inside the church was prohibited.
We bought some jewelry from an artisan who lives full time on the mesa and also bought a loaf of bread made in one of their outside oven; firewood is placed in the oven and when it turns into charcoal it’s removed and the round loaf of bread is placed inside and the opening closed up. In about 35-40 minutes the loaf is done, having cooked by the residual heat from the fire.
We also made friends with Maya, a villager child who lives on the mesa and joined our tour chatting with us and reminding us no photos inside the church!
We both thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Sky City!
Here is a link to a website with more information (click here), and below are some pictures we took on the mesa: