Pitrooms were part of the transition from pithouses to kivas. The lack of household items like manos and metates signaled a transition toward a more formal religious chamber. The pitroom shown here is unusual due to its rectangular shape; most pitrooms were round.
Not far from the Square Tower Overlook is an area called Successive Villages. This was one of the most interesting sites to me because they were able to excavate a variety of villages from different time periods in a relatively small area without destroying other ruins. Too frequently villages were built on top of each other and to get to the lower levels you have to damage the upper level villages.
The earlier indications of actual settlements, as opposed to the Paleo-Indian Hunter Gatherers, are Pithouses. Pithouses were built between 500 and 900 AD with most of the ones in Mesa Verde coming between 500 and 750. A pithouse had a living area sunk a few feet into the ground with four corner timbers supporting the roof. The firepits had air deflectors to help guide the smoke from cooking fires through a vent in the roof. There was also frequently an antechamber used for storage and there was a Sipapu which was a small hole for passage to the underworld. Pithouses, evolved into Pitrooms and eventually into Kivas (or Ceremonial Rooms).
Another really interesting building in the park is the Square Tower. You can view the tower from a viewpoint at the end of a short trail. At 28 feet, the square tower is the tallest building in the park. Square tower was part of an extensive complex of over 80 rooms and 7 kivas.
The next stop after, the pithouse is Navajo Canyon Overlook. This area has a number of North/South canyons that average 650 feet in depth. This makes the mesa-top communities appear isolated but there was a lot of intercommunication. There would not have been as much advancement without this interaction.
After leaving the Chapin Mesa Complex, if you go straight, you can tour the Mesa Top Loop. The first stop on the Mesa Top Loop is one of the older style houses called a pithouse. These pithouses, were built around 750 AD and were predecessors to the pueblo and cliff dwellings that came later. I will go into a bit more detail about pithouses and this transition in later tips (starting about three from here).
Many of the dwellings in the park are either inaccessible or you can only tour them by purchasing a ticket and going on a ranger-guided tour. The Spruce Tree House is a self-guided tour from spring through fall. In the winter, weather permitting, there are ranger guided tours available. Spruce Tree House is one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the park. The trail leading to the dwelling is relatively short (1/2mile), and paved, but is very steep in spots and remember you are at 7000 feet in elevation. The trail to the dwelling connects with other trails.
As you enter the first part of Chapin Mesa there is a large parking area and a number of buildings and facilities on the right. One of the buildings is the excellent Chapin Mesa Museum. This museum is well worth seeing and has a number of well-done, informative displays that will give you insight into the people who built these dwellings and called Mesa Verde home. Displays include: Dioramas, pottery, rugs, paintings and other types of displays. The types of pottery found at a site is a good indicator of when an area was occupied and how extensive their trade and social relationships with other locations were. Most pottery produced in the Mesa Verde area was the black on white design. I was very impressed by this museum and found it fascinating.
In addition to the museum, this complex offers a post office, and a restaurant and gift shop.
The Far View Community was one of the most densely populated areas in the Mesa Verde area, with over 50 villages in a 1/2 square mile area. Pipe Shrine House got its name from the 12 pottery pipes found while excavating the kiva floor here. Note the neat design on the stone to the left of the doorway in Photo 2.
Another interesting site in the Far View Community was the Far View Tower. Towers were several stories tall, were built using double coursed masonry and only during the later periods of construction (usually 1100 to 1300 AD). The exact use of these towers is unknown but they were frequently connected to kivas by a tunnel so they may have been ceremonial or religious in use. What do you think? Also of particular interest to me were the "Keyhole Kivas", so called because of their shape like an old keyhole.
Far View House was the first mesa-top site excavated by famous archeologist Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes, in 1916. Fewkes pioneered some of the early techniques used in the excavation and study of Pueblo sites in the Southwest and contributed greatly to our knowledge of their lives and habits. Far View House was built around 1000 AD and was occupied until the 1300s. It shares many architectural similarities (like planned community design, large rooms and doorways, massive walls, and the overall layout of rooms and kivas) with the sites in Chaco Canyon. The design of the building along with items like pottery, baskets and jewelry, found during excavation indicate extensive and far reaching trade relations.
About 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) south of the visitors center is a grouping of villages called the Far View Community or Far View Sites. There is a short, level, unpaved 3/4 mile loop trail that leads through these villages. One village is called Coyote Village. Coyote Village has lots of rooms built together in a large building. Many of the smaller rooms were used for storage. Coyote Village also had a very nice Kiva (a special room used for ceremonial purposes) that was enclosed inside the walls of the building. Sites here were built and occupied from around 750 AD to 1300 AD a period of almost 700 years.
At the Visitors Center, you have the option of taking one of two roads to view the cliff dwellings, pit houses, and other archeological attractions. Wetherill Mesa Road is 12 miles long and has several interesting sites to see. It is only open during the summer months. I did not go down Wetherill Mesa Road; but opted for Chapin Mesa Road. Chapin Mesa Road is open year round.
There is a very nice museum inside the Far View Visitors Center that has well done, informative displays about the geology of the rocks here and the peoples who settled the land and built the dwellings.
One of the earlier pullouts along the access road, before the visitors center, is an interesting area that teaches about the geologic origins of the rock forming the cliffs where the Mesa Verde dwellings are built, and the seep springs that helped provided them with fresh water. The rock forming these cliffs started forming about 90 million years ago when the area was covered by a shallow sea. The Colorado Plateau began raising to its current 8000 feet about 65 million years ago.
So here we had an unmarked road that was gated. It was gated because they still had 6 inches of snow on the ground. Most people just drove on by. You can park at the gate, just be careful to park on the side so that if they need to they can open the gate and you won't be in the way. I walked down the road for about 300 meters and came to Far View Ruins. This is not a cliff dwelling but a farming community built by the Anasazi for the agricultural potential of this area. You can see Mummy Lake - a irrigation reservoir fed by a canal. You can also see two seperate dwelling structures within easy walking distance.