100 Days of National Parks: Day 40 – In the Kiva, Mesa Verde National Park

In the Kiva


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Descending into one of the remaining Kivas in Mesa Verde National Park is a surreal experience.  For someone who’s as claustrophobic as I am, climbing down a ladder into a room barely 4 or 5 paces across with only one way out can be rather nerve-racking.  Breathing in the stale air and feeling the cool stones of the rock walls, worn smooth by thousands of hands feeling at the edges of the darkness just like me, it’s hard to imagine an entire community relying on these small underground rooms for homes or social and ceremonial gatherings.

The Kiva at the Spruce Tree House near the Mesa Verde Visitor Center is in fact a recreation of the ones that were found all across the park in its many ruined cliff dwellings.  The light streaming through the opening in the roof is just enough to get your bearings, and illuminate the masoned sandstone walls of the pit.  Ancestral Puebloans used these rooms for a variety of reasons that are still unclear to archaeologists, and eventually passed the practice on to their descendent cultures, most evident in the Hopi people of northeastern Arizona.  They were commonly used in later cultures a place for communal gatherings and spiritual practices, and are important indicators of a dwelling’s size and resiliency in archaeological research.

If wandering through the ruins of Mesa Verde is like stepping into the past, then there is no clearer example of this than taking the opportunity to climb down the ladder into the Kiva at Spruce Tree House.  In the darkness of these pits, it’s impossible not to feel surrounded and engulfed by the history of the place, and to wonder who these people were, and why they disappeared so many centuries ago.


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