The last cliff dwelling that we visited on our trip to Mesa Verde National Park was Spruce Tree House. Spruce Tree House is the third largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde, with 130 rooms and 8 kivas. It was rediscovered in 1888, and is one of the best preserved sites at the park; about 95% original. The alcove that the dwelling is located in is 216 feet long by 89 feet deep. The dwelling was constructed between 1211 A.D. and 1278 A.D.
Spruce Tree House is also the most accessible cliff dwelling; visitors can visit without being on a ranger guided tour. To get there, we walked down into the canyon via a 1/4 mile paved pathway. There are Rangers stationed at the dwelling to answer questions (and probably to make sure people don’t try to steal artifacts or vandalize the site), but you can explore a lot of the dwelling on your own.
Spruce Tree House is also the only site at Mesa Verde where you can enter a kiva. The Park Service replaced the roofs on two of the kivas here, and one of them is open to visitors. Even though what we know about kivas and their use is just an educated guess, it is fun to imagine what it would have been like to witness a spiritual ceremony or meeting in the kiva.
Spruce Tree House also has several T-shaped doorways; archaeologists aren’t sure if these have a spiritual significance, are merely a design element, or if they are for better temperature control in the rooms. T-shaped doorways are found throughout the Puebloan community, including Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon and other sites – it is known that these communities traded with each other, so ideas and preferences were undoubtedly passed from one to another as well.
As we were walking down to the site, we passed the trail head for the Petroglyph Trail, a trail that leads a couple of miles off into the canyon to a petroglyph site. Had the day been warmer, we certainly would have ventured out to check it out. However, on the day we visited it was very cold – probably high thirties, and although we had sweatshirts and hats, we only had summer jackets, and Jon didn’t have any gloves. It actually started to snow as we were leaving for the day.
So the Petroglyph Trail goes on the list of things to do on our return trip to Mesa Verde, whenever that happens to be. If you do decide to do the Petroglyph Trail hike, be sure to check in at the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum, as it is considered a backcountry hike, and one tourist disappeared from the trail in June 2013. To date, no trace of him has been found, despite an extensive search. It is a stark reminder of the fact that our National Parks are still very wild.