Within Mesa Verde National Park, near Cortez (CO), is the six-mile Mesa Top Loop Drive. In this short distance, we could travel across six centuries represented in housing of the Ancestral Puebloans—from A.D. 600 to about 1300.
The earliest dwellings were pithouses—shallow pits dug into the ground, covered with pole and mud roofs and walls, with entrances through the roofs. The larger space was the living room. In the center is a firepit, where people did the cooking. A stone slab was placed in front of the firepit to deflect cool entering the space and drawing smoke up and out the roof.
This is a view of Navajo Canyon.
In the upper right hand portion of this section (below) of the canyon is the well-protected location of another cliff dwelling,
In another section of Navajo Canyon is the Square Tower House, named for the four-story structure standing against the curving back wall of the alcove. Square Tower House represented the final phase of building (between A.D. 1200-1300) in Mesa Verde.
What appears to be one pithouse (below) is actually two. The one in the foreground was built first, around A.D. 700, but was destroyed by fire. The one in the background is the enlarged antechamber of the first.
I believe this is a portion of the kiva of the first village, built around A.D. 900.
A portion of a tower, built as part of the third village, is shown on the right in the photo (right). The purpose of the tower remains unclear.
I believe the next two pairs of photos were taken from the Sun Point View. The dark portion in the center of the photo below
protects the structures shown in the photo below.
Similarly, the dark portion in the upper left-center portion of the photo below
protects the remains of the structures shown below.
The Fire Temple with its large plaza may have been a "stage" for ceremonial dances, attended by people from all over the mesa. This was probably not a place where people lived.
And just to the right of Fire Temple is New Fire House, a cliff dwelling in upper and lower alcoves
Mesa Verde's structures offer a magnificent record of the earliest residents of the Southwest.
(Information presented here is drawn from the Mesa Top brochure.)