Tag Archive | history

MI Road Trip: Hackley and Hume Historic Site

After our lunch at Founder’s Brewery, we got back on the road and made our way to Muskegon, Michigan. It is a small lakefront city established during Michigan’s lumber boom, and kept vibrant due to its location on the lake and shipping routes. We wanted to tour the Hackley and Hume Historic Site, which consists of two historic homes that are owned and operated by the Lakeshore Museum Center. Charles H. Hackley is Michigan’s most famous lumber baron (as if each state has a most famous lumber baron!) and Thomas Hume was one of his business partners.

When we showed up to tour the homes, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the tour was free in October! They charge a nominal fee all season long, but the home is also partially funded by property taxes, so October is the time the museum gives back to the community in the form of free admission.

Hackley purchased the double lot in 1887 and promptly sold part of it to Hume. The homes and the City Barn behind the homes were designed and built between 1887 and 1889. Despite having been designed by the same architect and largely using the same color scheme on the exterior of both homes, they are very different from each other. Hackley was married and had two older adopted children; he was the founding partner of the business and had his home built as an extravagant retirement home.

The exterior of the Hackley House – smaller but more elaborate than the Hume House

The exterior of the Hackley House – smaller but more elaborate than the Hume House

The Hackley home was built to impress; it was very detailed and intricate. Both homes are built in the Queen Anne Victorian style, but the Hackley home features elaborate woodcarving throughout, majolica tile, leaded glass windows, imported marble and expensive furniture.

The stairway in the Hackley House – No that’s not a ghost outside the window; its the painter.

The stairway in the Hackley House – No that’s not a ghost outside the window; its the painter.

The entryway of the Hackley House has five carved heads, representing the five races of man. This one is the Native American.

The entryway of the Hackley House has five carved heads, representing the five races of man. This one is the Native American.

The beautiful woodworking around the sink in the bedroom.

The beautiful woodworking around the sink in the bedroom.

The bathroom was also very unique – apparently Hackley was a bit of a germo-phobe, so he had the bathroom completely tiled to ensure that it was sanitary – even the ceiling! The bathroom also had an old time toilet paper holder. The toilet paper came in squares back then, not rolls, and the squares were held down by a spring-loaded metal bar.

Have you ever seen tile on the bathroom ceiling?

Have you ever seen tile on the bathroom ceiling?

The Hackley home largely remained true to the turn of the century period. Hackley’s daughter lived in the home for a period of time after her father’s death, then eventually sold it to the American Red Cross, who took good care of the place.

The Hume house had a more open floor plan, and was more modern, but also more modest. The Hume family had 6 or 7 children, and he was a lesser partner in the business, so he didn’t have as much money. As a result, his home was nowhere near as richly appointed. It is presented as it existed later in life after being redecorated in the 1920s. It is still clearly a rich man’s home, but the décor in the home is much more simple.

One of the fireplaces in the Hume House

One of the fireplaces in the Hume House

Both homes are great examples of Queen Anne style architecture, and it is interesting to note the differences. The two homes also share a gigantic carriage house; with each half of the carriage house a mirror image of the other. Now it houses a small museum, a theater for the movie of the area and family history, and a gift shop. The museum is small, but it explained more of the history of the area, and has an incredible amount of detail about the Hackley and Hume families and even the servants who lived in the homes and carriage house. Part of the barn has been restored to its look as a stable and the coachman’s quarters.

Photos are allowed inside, without flash, and just in case you are wondering, yes, the homes are painted in their original colors. The Hume house has… 14… exterior colors!

 

The Hume House (with the City Barn in the background) – larger much less intricate than the Hackley House. And 14 exterior colors!

The Hume House (with the City Barn in the background) – larger much less intricate than the Hackley House. And 14 exterior colors!

The Lakeshore Museum Center also operates two other historic properties that are open to the public, a replica of a fire barn built in 1875 (and largely funded by Charles H. Hackley) and the Scolnik house, a historic home decorated to explore the lives of working class families in the Depression era. We didn’t have time to visit these other properties, but I would love to go back and check these out as well!

A Stop in Historic Jacksonville

It was the third day of our Southern Oregon long weekend and we were headed to Jacksonville!  Jacksonville, Oregon is a historic town just 5 miles outside of Medford.  It experienced a huge boom in 1851 and 1852 when gold was discovered there, and the town became the principal financial center for Southern Oregon at the time.  However, the gold dried up, and so did the town, especially after the railroad passed it by in 1884.  It remained the county seat until 1927, but the economy of the town drastically declined.  As a result of the decline, progress bypassed Jacksonville and a large number of the commercial and residential buildings were left intact.

The Old Drug Store

The Old Drug Store

Now the large number of historic buildings are the stars of the town, drawing tourists to the quiet downtown.  The main street is lined with shops, selling a variety of art, local clothing and handmade jewelry, and fair trade products.  Jon and I visited in 2011, and loved the relaxed little town so much that we couldn’t wait to come back.

A Historic Saloon turned Coffee Shop

A Historic Saloon turned Coffee Shop

We had lunch at the Bella Union – a restaurant in a historic building downtown.  The Bella Union began as a restaurant and saloon in 1864, and operated until it burned on April 14, 1874.  After that it was home to many businesses; a machine shop, saddle shop, saloon, deli and finally a restaurant and saloon once again.  The present restaurant has been in business since 1988.

The outdoor patio at the Bella Union Restaurant

The outdoor patio at the Bella Union Restaurant

I had a turkey cranberry sandwich and vegetable soup; Jon had steamed clams and salad.  Both were delicious.  We sat outside on the patio in the warm shade and enjoyed a relaxed conversation with Jon’s parents.  After lunch, we shopped a bit, and then headed off for our next adventure – wine tasting!

A Tour! A Writer’s Tour!

This brief hijacking takes us on a different kind of tour: a Writer’s Blog Tour.  It’s an interview, of sorts, about my blog and writing process.  Although I often share a little bit about my offline life, this post includes a bit more about me – I’m Camille, the woman behind the blog.

I was nominated by Susan Kalasunas, the writer behind The History Tourist, one of my favorite blogs.  Susan writes about historical sites as well, but she takes it a step further, by looking for an interactive experience to write about.  She wants to experience history as a tourist.  She recounts her experiences in a way that makes me want to visit each and every place she goes to!

And now for me….

What am I currently working on?

I’m currently working on catching up from my summer and fall travel. I recently began a series of posts about my Southern Oregon travels in August. Jon and I, along with his parents, did a tour of the Oregon Caves, hiked down to the bottom of Crater Lake and took the boat tour, and did a day of relaxing and wine tasting in historic Jacksonville, Oregon.

I’ll also be posting about our trip to Michigan in October. Mostly it was a family trip, but we managed to sneak off for a few days and do some sightseeing. In those few days, we toured two historic homes and a converted mental hospital, hiked at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and sampled beer and wine from several local Michigan establishments.

Lastly, if Jon hadn’t poached the rest of the bottles from my mixed case of wine, I’d be posting reviews of those, but as it stands, I’m not sure I have any of them left. SIGH…There’s never a shortage of wine to comment on around here though!

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

My mother once famously described my travel style as “eclectic,” and I think this blog reflects that. I love history and historical sites, but I don’t really stick to one genre or experience. I love it all. Being one half of a duo though, I try hard to consider Jon in the travel planning. Although I could tour historic homes for a week straight, I think he would go crazy. So historic homes, prisons, battlefields, National Parks, cemeteries, boat rides, breweries, and quick stops to take pictures of quirky Americana on the roadside, they all make it on my list.

One thing that we seem to do differently is the pace of our travels. Both Jon and I work full-time and have a limited amount of time we can be away. And we live in a part of the country that is somewhat lacking in historical sites. So when we do travel, we really try to pack it in and make the most of our time! If I don’t come home from vacation feeling like I need a vacation, I haven’t done my duty.

Why do I write what I do?

I suppose I started the blog to share my experience. I figured if I created a written record of the wines I have loved, I might be able to remember them better. And my vacation series have become a way to remember the great vacations that Jon and I are fortunate to take. From the hotels to the restaurants, to all the fabulous places we go, I can look back and smile when I need a pick me up. Reading all the positive comments from all of you is the icing on the cake!

How does my writing process work?

I write for a living. In my day job though, the writing is sterile… focused on clarity… on standing up to a legal challenge. Union contracts, policies, grievance responses, separation agreements – those aren’t the kind of writing that make you want to reread it a year later and relive the warm memories. So this blog allows me to be quirky (my usual personality), to express my pet peeves, and to hopefully make you feel like you are here with me.

When I visit a historical site, I like to give my readers an overview of the place, so they know a little bit about it without having to Google it. Self-contained history, if you will. And I like to share my experience. Mostly I love everyplace I go, because I try to maintain a childlike wonder when I get to experience something new. But if there were too many bugs or the tour was too short or if you should get a hat with a chinstrap to prevent it from blowing off, I’ll pass that along to you too.

I take notes in a travel journal when Jon and I are traveling; I record the day and what we did and where we ate and what we had.  Occasionally, I record prices or travel tips, but this really isn’t that kind of blog.  I also collect brochures to take home with me so I can remember the details of the places we visited, and I always take to the internet when I’m writing a post.

Onward in the tour!

Sarah Angleton is a fiction writer and history enthusiast from Missouri. Her short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies and journals you’ve probably never read. Her first novel was recently accepted for publication by High Hill Press and may one day find a home on your bookshelf. In the meantime, Sarah blogs weekly as the Practical Historian, exploring the ways stories of the past intertwine with experiences of the present.

Sarah Angleton, The Practical Historian

Sarah Angleton, The Practical Historian

Kirsten is a wine blogger who fell in love with wine over 24 years ago, and has never fallen out of love.  She’s a chronic CSW (that’s Certified Specialist of Wine) student, but can’t seem to reach the finish line.  She started her blog as a way to be her own teacher, and teaches many of us along the way.  She is tasting her way through the world according to wine, studying and learning about wine one bottle at a time.  And then she blogs about it at The Armchair Sommelier.

Kerstin bio photo

In a previous life, Kirsten was a high school history teacher and a fundraiser for non-profit organizations.  She’s a wife, and mom to 2 teenagers!

She is a student of photography and history, and takes some really great photos!  And bonus — wine almost always allows her to incorporate both of those passions into her blog posts.  She also loves to travel . . . the world’s a big place.

Thank you for coming along with me as I share three of my favorite blogs!  Cheers!

SW National Parks Trip: Loretto and an Old House

In my last post, we rolled into Santa Fe, checked out the historic downtown and got dinner before settling down for the night.  We got an amazing night’s sleep on our first night at the Hotel Chimayo, and headed out into a cold Santa Fe to find some breakfast and start the day’s sightseeing.  We wandered around for a little while, checking out our options, before deciding on the Plaza Café.  It was super-convenient, because as the name implies, it was right off the main square.  It has been in business since 1905, and has been owned by the same family since 1947!

At the Plaza Café, Jon enjoyed the egg white omelet with a side of fruit, and I had the huevos rancheros (it seems to be a theme with us – he orders the more healthful meal, and I pig out.  He eats more snacks – so it must even out!).  The service was fast and friendly, and our server seemed to know many of the customers that came in.  That says a lot about a restaurant.

We got on our way after breakfast, and our first stop was the Loretto Chapel. The Loretto Chapel was built by the Santa Fe Archdiocese as a convent chapel.  Construction began in 1872.  The architect died suddenly during construction, and it was discovered that due to the narrow design of the church, the choir loft could only be served by a ladder.  The nuns weren’t comfortable with having to climb the ladder up to the choice loft in the long habits they wore, so they prayed for someone who could design and build a staircase that would fit into the space.

The Altar at the Loretto Chapel

The Altar at the Loretto Chapel

As the legend goes, on their ninth day of prayer a mysterious man showed up and announced that he was the man for the job, but that he needed total privacy during construction. He locked himself into the church and wouldn’t allow anyone to watch him work.  Three months later, he finished the staircase, would not accept payment and disappeared as mysteriously as he had arrived.  Further inspection showed that the staircase is made from non-native wood, and is completely free flying – it is not connected to any of the walls.  The theory is that the staircase is narrow enough for the center pillar to provide enough support.  The staircase is also made without nails; instead it is completely constructed with wooden dowels.  It does two complete spiral rotations.  The nuns believed that the staircase was a gift from God.

The Miraculous Staircase at the Loretto Chapel

The Miraculous Staircase at the Loretto Chapel

Although the Loretto Chapel was once a Catholic chapel, it has since been deconsecrated and sold to a private museum, which runs it as a tourist attraction and wedding chapel.  The setting is a little cheesy, as there is an audio loop playing some corny religious music and a voice over explaining the story of the miraculous staircase. That said, admission was only $3 per person, and it was neat to see the staircase. When we were there, it was fairly quiet inside, so I could get some photos without people in them. However, shortly after we arrived, a large group of tourists arrived, so we made a hasty exit through the gigantic gift shop and back out to the street.

A beautiful stained glass window in the Loretto Chapel

A beautiful stained glass window in the Loretto Chapel

You should know that after construction, the staircase was attached to a support beam to help stabilize it, and the railings were added about 10 years after the original construction.  So, it isn’t completely original.  And in case you are absolutely enthralled with the story, there is a TV movie called The Staircase starring Barbara Hershey, that roughly depicts the story.  I haven’t seen the movie, so if you have, be sure to let me know how it is, but don’t tell me how it ends…  Ha!

After the Loretto Chapel, we made our way over to the “Oldest House in the United States.”  The “house” is now a real estate office, but the sign outside indicates that it was built in approximately 1646. A quick search of the internet however, reveals that if this house was built in 1646, it is nowhere near the oldest house in the U.S.  That distinction belongs to the cliff dwellings of the Puebloan people (now abandoned) or the homes of the Taos Pueblo (which are still occupied); they were built between 1,000 and 1,450 C.E.  Or the several homes on the East Coast that are older.

The sign marking the Oldest House in the USA

The sign marking the Oldest House in the USA

This home makes the claim that it is the oldest because it was built on a pre-Spanish foundation thought to date to about 1,200 C.E.  So, it is up to you to decide what really holds the title for “Oldest House in the United States.”  You can go inside and see it, but we just took a look at the outside.  We posed for photos (I even got Jon to pose!) and will just consider it to be the oldest house that we have ever seen in person. Until it’s not.  Unless you are counting homes that are now ruins – then the ruins at Mesa Verde are the oldest homes we have seen in person.  It’s all so complicated…

This humble home was built around 1646

This humble home was built around 1646

Have you ever been to Loretto Chapel or the “Oldest House in the U.S.”?  What did you think?

SW National Parks Trip: Chaco Culture History

The next day on our trip was our visit to Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  Chaco Culture is located in the San Juan Basin, between Farmington, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a canyon cut by the Chaco Wash.  It is situated at an elevation between 6200 and 6400 feet.  The wash rarely contains water, only filling when a storm rolls through the area.  The area where the park is located receives an average of 9.1 inches of rain annually.  Although the temperatures fluctuate wildly, from -38 degrees in the winter to 102 in the summer, there are only 3 or 4 snow storms each year.

Evidence of human habitation goes back to about 7,000 B.C., with about 70 campsites in caves and on the canyon floor found in the area.  As with other areas in the Southwest, the first people to live here were nomadic or semi-nomadic, but the first evidence of farming dates to about 900 B.C.  As time went on and farming techniques improved, the population increased and people became less and less nomadic.  As in nearby areas, the first housing structures were pit houses, with a portion of the home dug into the ground and timbers, grasses and mud laid over top.  About 800 A.D. the first stone construction began.

Between 900 and 1150 Chaco Canyon evolved into a major cultural center for the Puebloan people; they began building Great Houses that consisted of anywhere between 200 and 700 rooms, and were up to 4 stories high, with spiritual kivas.  The Great Houses were designed and planned, rather than other types of Puebloan architecture where rooms were added on in stages without a formal architectural plan.  The final look of the Great House was known before construction even began, even though some of the Great Houses took decades, or even centuries to complete.  The lack of hearths in many Great House rooms lead researchers to believe that they were not residential complexes, but existed more as spiritual centers or places were people gathered periodically through the year to trade.

Looking out at Pueblo Bonito from above

Looking out at Pueblo Bonito from above

The boundaries of the current park contain 14 known Great Houses.  The archaeological record shows that these Great Houses were built along precise directional lines, with points lining up to mark event like equinoxes and solstices.  The fact that this complex construction was so precise indicates that the builders at Chaco Canyon had considerable knowledge of astronomy.  In fact, one pictograph at Chaco Culture NHP is thought to be a depiction of the Supernova of 1054.  I first heard about the Supernova when we did the Moab Astronomy tour.

Excavation at the sites also uncovered evidence of turquoise and obsidian manufacturing here.  Raw materials were transported here and then fashioned into beads, necklaces and pendants.  Seashells, copper bells, and the remains of macaws and parrots native to Central America also indicate that the Chacoans had an extensive trading network.  Roads were created that link the Great Houses at Chaco to over 150 other Great Houses in the area.  These are more than just foot paths, rather they are planned and engineered roads; over 400 miles of roads are known today.

Like other sites of the Puebloan people, Chaco Canyon and its Great Houses were abandoned beginning in the late 1100s; there were several severe droughts in the area that may have been the catalyst for the populations of the area to move elsewhere.  The ruins were “re-discovered” by the Western world in the 1800s; the governor of New Mexico documented them in a trip to the area in 1823.  The U.S. Army surveyed the area in 1849, but due to the remote location, Chaco Canyon was not visited with any regularity for another 50 years.  Formal archaeological work was begun in 1896 by the Museum of Natural History.  An excavation of Pueblo Bonito, the largest Great House at Chaco Canyon, yielded over 60,000 artifacts that were sent to New York.

One of the walls of Pueblo Bonito

One of the walls of Pueblo Bonito

In 1901, Richard Wetherill, the same man who led all those people up into the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, claimed a homestead of 160 acres at Chaco Canyon.  His homestead included the Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Kelt, and Pueblo del Arroyo sites.  The controversy surrounding his homestead claim was one of the major catalysts for the passage of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which paved the way for the designation of Chaco Canyon as a federally protected site.

Theodore Roosevelt designated Chaco Canyon National Monument on March 11, 1907; Richard Wetherill relinquished his homestead claim.  The area was designated on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, and on December 19, 1980, another 13,000 acres were added to the park.  At that time, it became Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.  It currently encompasses about 33,978 acres.

Its remote location limits visitation even today; in 2011 it received only 39,175 visitors.  Some of this is due to the challenging road leading to the park.  We were lucky enough to make it there on our recent trip, so in my next posts, I will tell you about our visit!

SW National Parks Trip: Spruce Tree House

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.

 

The View of Spruce Tree House from Above

The View of Spruce Tree House from Above

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.

A Closer View of Spruce Tree House

A Closer View of Spruce Tree House

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.

Spruce Tree House – With a View of the T-Shaped Windows A Kiva is in the Foreground

Spruce Tree House – With a View of the T-Shaped Windows
A Kiva is in the Foreground

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.

SW National Parks Trip: Balcony House

After we checked out Cliff Palace, we headed over to Balcony House to meet the rangers for the tour.

The rangers at the Visitor’s Center had let us know that we would need to be climbing ladders, crawling through tight spaces, and climbing up on the original foot holds of the original inhabitants, so understandably, the tour begins with the safety talk.  They give more warnings and encourage anybody who has concerns about their abilities to reconsider whether this tour is a good idea.  It is a necessary beginning, because they certainly don’t want to have to deal with someone who can’t make the climb, or becomes paralyzed by fear, or gets stuck in the tight space in the tunnel.

Ranger Wendell did have a bit of humor for us though, telling us that one of her fellow rangers shoots for a 90% return rate on tour participants.  That’s 90% returning home from the tour; not 90% who return to the park for another tour!

Ranger Clyde led our tour of Balcony House; he wasn’t wearing his uniform that day but I’m not sure why. But, as it turns out, we were in for a real treat.  Ranger Clyde is a Navajo historian in addition to being a Park Ranger, so he provided a unique perspective on the sacred nature of the dwelling.

We walked down the steps to get below the mesa top, and Ranger Clyde began the tour talking about the things in nature that the Native Americans used to make their world easier. The plants that they used to make clothing, shoes and bedding, the animals that they ate and used for household purposes, and the ways that they navigated their environment to survive.  He encouraged us to look around at the landscape and see what plants and animals could be used, and what their purpose would be.

Ranger Clyde showed us a seep, where the water would flow down through the sandstone and emerge in a little pool near the entrance of the dwelling. This water gave the Puebloans one of the key elements of survival.  Even though Mesa Verde gets only about 10 inches of rain per year, there are numerous seeps that provide water year round.

Then we started up the ladder. This ladder didn’t exist during the period when the Puebloans inhabited the dwelling – when we climbed up the 35 foot ladder we weren’t climbing up to the original entrance of the dwelling either.  The ladder was a very sturdy double ladder, installed by the Park Service in the 1930s, and even though it was quite tall, I was perfectly comfortable climbing up.  There was just a very brief period where I got a little bit nervous about the height as I was getting off at the top.

The ladder to enter Balcony House – you can see the dwelling above

The ladder to enter Balcony House – you can see the dwelling above

Once you are at the top of the ladder, you are in the cliff alcove where Balcony House is built.  To get into the dwelling, you have to squeeze through a tight space between the back of the overhang in the cliff and the stone wall constructed by the Puebloans. This tight squeeze turned out to be fairly large when you consider what comes later. At this point we were in the dwelling, which is 40 rooms. Balcony House is considered a medium sized cliff dwelling in terms of the size of dwellings at Mesa Verde.  Only 10 cliff dwelling sites at Mesa Verde have more rooms.  The alcove itself is 264 feet long, 20 feet high and 39 feet deep, so they made good use of the space.

Balcony House – with one of the two kivas in the foreground

Balcony House – with one of the two kivas in the foreground

Balcony House is some of the last construction at Mesa Verde; it was built between 1180 and 1270 A.D. The dwelling is also one of the least accessible sites at Mesa Verde. The only access for the Puebloan people was down the steep mesa cliff, with hand and foot holds carved or worn into the sandstone over time.  Although very little is known about the inhabitants here, archaeologists have made some educated guesses about why Balcony House was constructed somewhat differently than most other cliff dwellings in the area.

Balcony House and its retaining wall

Balcony House and its retaining wall

It is believed that relationships between the communities in the Four Corners region may have deteriorated to the point where security in the dwelling was a concern. They believe that may be why Balcony House was built with such a secure entrance.  When you are inside Balcony House, it is easy to see that the Puebloans used all available space. They built walls back into the overhang, and all the way up to the ceiling. There is evidence that the dwelling was 3 stories tall in some areas. You can see where the mortar still clings to the back and sides of the cliff overhang, and also where soot from fires stained the overhang black over a hundred years.

More of Balcony House – in this photo you can see one of the steel support bars (to the left of the two small windows on the second story) that was installed during the restoration in 1910. It is not considered good historic preservation now, but the Park Service has let the old structural supports stay.

More of Balcony House – in this photo you can see one of the steel support bars (to the left of the two small windows on the second story) that was installed during the restoration in 1910. It is not considered good historic preservation now, but the Park Service has let the old structural supports stay.

Balcony House is named for the balconies that exist between the first and second stories of the rooms.  These overhangs were used by the inhabitants to move from one second floor room to another.  They may have also been used as work spaces.  The fact that these balconies still exist with their original 800 year old wooden beams and adobe mortar is amazing.  In some rooms, wooden beams up high near the ceiling are thought to be drying racks.

Me inside Balcony House – you can see the one of the balconies that the dwelling is named for. And please pay no attention to my mismatched outfit – it was cold that day and I had to wear all of my warm clothes!

Me inside Balcony House – you can see the one of the balconies that the dwelling is named for. And please pay no attention to my mismatched outfit – it was cold that day and I had to wear all of my warm clothes!

After we finished up our tour, there is still the process of getting out.  The original entrance to Balcony House is what the Park Service uses as an exit – a 12 foot long roofed tunnel built by the original inhabitants.  Short people like me can duck walk through the tunnel, but taller people have to crawl to get through it.  Either way, it is a tight squeeze – they recommend taking off your backpack to get through if you are wearing one.

The original entrance tunnel to Balcony House – could you fit?

The original entrance tunnel to Balcony House – could you fit?

Once we were outside of Balcony House, we made our way back up to the mesa top using the hand and foot holds that the Puebloan people used when they lived here.  The Park Service has enlarged them and installed a fence that will keep most people from falling (unless you tumble over the fence), but the journey up the cliff was still a bit scary for me.  Let’s just say I did not look down!

The climb back up to the mesa top from Balcony House. There are no statistics on how many of the Puebloan people died in falls.

The climb back up to the mesa top from Balcony House. There are no statistics on how many of the Puebloan people died in falls.

I loved our tour!  It was fascinating to see just how tough these people were and to experience just a tiny bit of how they would have lived.  It was well worth challenging my fear of heights yet again!

Have you toured Balcony House?  Are you brave enough to want to?

 

 

 

SW National Parks Trip: Cliff Palace

Our first stop at Mesa Verde National Park was at the Visitor’s Center – I got my National Parks Passport stamp, some postcards, and some handy booklets with facts on the various cliff dwellings. We talked to the ranger about our options for a tour, and I decided to book us for the Balcony House tour. I would have loved to do the tour of Cliff Palace too, but I didn’t think I could get Jon to do two tours in one day.

I chose Balcony House because it was the most challenging tour, with the ranger explaining that visitors would have to climb a ladder, crawl on their hands and knees and scale the side of a cliff.  Oh, that’s all…  And they also said it wasn’t a good tour for people with a fear of heights.  Even though I am afraid of heights, this tour sounded a lot cooler than the others.  We were in!  The tours are an extra fee, not covered by your annual parks pass or the standard entrance fee, but they are still very reasonable – $4 per person.

We had some time to stop at Cliff Palace on our way to Balcony House for our tour. Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde, consisting of about 150-200 rooms. The dwelling was discovered by Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason in 1888, while they were out one winter day looking for stray cattle.  Wetherill was ranching in the area and had spent some time building relationships with the local Native American tribes; they told him about the dwellings in the canyons. The Ute tribe that was living in the area had known about the cliff dwellings for generations, but they considered them to be sacred land, so they didn’t inhabit the dwellings themselves.

Cliff Palace – the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace – the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace is built below the mesa top into the cliff, underneath a large flat overhang under the mesa top. The Park Service has built a series of steps into the cliff so visitors can climb down into the dwelling on tours.  There are also a few 10 foot ladders that you have to access to get into the site, but it doesn’t have the significant climbing and crawling that is required on the Balcony House tour.  Because of the stairs, it is fairly accessible to large numbers of the public, so it is the park’s most popular tour.

A portion of the Cliff Palace complex, showing several kivas in the front and a four story tower on the right side

A portion of the Cliff Palace complex, showing several kivas in the front and a four story tower on the right side

Cliff Palace was built between 1190 and 1260, in a period when the Puebloan culture was moving down from the mesa tops into the alcoves. They devoted a lot of time and resources to construct these elaborate homes and spiritual sites; hauling in water to mix mortar, and making plaster to smooth over the block walls. Cliff Palace was three stories tall in areas and had 23 kivas. A kiva was the spiritual center of the dwelling, and is thought to have been a center for worship and perhaps the business of the community.  There is a four story square tower in the Cliff Palace complex as well.

Close up of the Cliff Palace tower. The lighter areas on the tower indicate reconstructed areas.

Close up of the Cliff Palace tower. The lighter areas on the tower indicate reconstructed areas.

Cliff Palace would have been one of the more comfortable cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. Its position relative to the sun would have allowed it to receive more sun during the winter to warm the dwelling, while being tucked in under the overhang protects it from the harsh winter winds. During the hot summer, it would have been protected from the sun beating down from directly overhead, making it cooler.

The view of Soda Canyon from the Cliff Palace Overlook. Cliff Palace is out of frame, in the lower left.

The view of Soda Canyon from the Cliff Palace Overlook. Cliff Palace is out of frame, in the lower left.

However, despite it being one of the more comfortable cliff dwelling sites, Cliff Palace is thought to have only housed about 100 people.  Researchers believe that a small number of people lived there year round, and others came for special ceremonial observances during the year.  This guess is based on the fact that there is a fairly low ratio of living rooms to kivas.

A close up showing some of the kivas at Cliff Palace

A close up showing some of the kivas at Cliff Palace

When we were there, there was a tour of the dwelling just leaving from the mesa top. As a result, the dwelling was empty and I was able to get some great photographs of the dwelling from the viewpoint on the mesa top. That said, I would love to tour this dwelling whenever we are able to return.

A close up of a Kiva at Cliff Palace, showing a display of grinding stones

A close up of a Kiva at Cliff Palace, showing a display of grinding stones

After we checked out Cliff Palace, it was time to head over to Balcony House for our tour.  I’ll post about that next!

Have you ever done the tour at Cliff Palace?  What was your favorite part?

 

 

SW National Parks Trip: Mesa Verde History

We got to visit to Mesa Verde National Park! Mesa Verde means green table in Spanish, named for the flat topped mesa that is covered in piñon pine (also spelled pinyon, but I prefer the Spanish spelling) trees.  Mesa Verde National Park was created on June 29, 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt.  The current boundaries of the park encompass 81.4 square miles, or around 52,000 acres.  Almost 600,000 people visit the park each year.

The entrance sign at Mesa Verde National Park – Yep, that’s snow…

The entrance sign at Mesa Verde National Park – Yep, that’s snow…

The land was once a giant ocean, and the canyons that exist today were created when the ocean and waterways receded, and erosion worked its magic on the sedimentary layers. Elevations in the park range from a low of 6,000 feet to a high of 8,572 feet.  Mesa Verde is the only National Park in the country that was created to protect a cultural site, and it is also a Unesco World Heritage Site – designated in 1978.  Mesa Verde protects over 4,700 archaeological sites created by the Puebloan culture, including dwelling sites, spiritual sites, ancient roads and other sites. Over 600 of the structures in Mesa Verde are cliff dwellings – these are the sites that the park is most famous for.

The first culture to live and farm at Mesa Verde were known as the Basketmakers.  Sources vary on the date, but it seems that they began living in Mesa Verde beginning about 400 A.D.  They made very detailed and beautifully woven baskets, which they used for many utilitarian purposes, including storage, cooking, and carrying water.  They lined some baskets with pitch in order to waterproof them for carrying water.

Around 550 A.D. the Puebloan people were living on the mesa tops, growing maize and hunting to supplement their diet. They also domesticated turkeys and dogs.  This culture discovered pottery methods, and they turned their attention to making pottery and fewer baskets. During this period on the mesa tops, they started out living in pit houses, which were houses dug into the ground of the mesa, with a roof made from timbers laid in rows and covered with reeds, brush and earth.

In about 750 A.D., they began to build villages on the mesa tops from adobe.  Initially, the walls were fashioned with a simple mud and pole construction, but over time their methods improved, and they began constructing buildings using stone masonry with adobe mortar. At this time, they were still living on the mesa tops.

What most people don’t know is that the Puebloan people only began to build the cliff dwellings that Mesa Verde is famous for in the 1190s. And the Puebloan people are thought to have left the area around 1300 due to a prolonged drought – that means they lived in the cliff dwellings for only slightly more than 100 years. Of course, that explains why only 600 of the 4,700 archaeological sites are cliff dwellings.

Between around 1300 and the 1800s, the Ute tribe came to the area. Spanish explorers traveled through the area in 1776, looking for a route from Santa Fe to California. They described the mesa and the canyons during their expedition, but apparently did not get close enough to see the cliff dwellings tucked into the alcoves.

In the 1870s, the area was home to the Ute tribe, and trappers and prospectors moved through the area. The Utes had long known about the cliff dwellings, but considered them to be sacred sites and did not live in them. One prospector, John Moss, found a cliff dwelling in 1873 and described it for the greater population. In 1876, a federally financed survey crew came through; that led to the first discussion of a systematic study of ruins in the American Southwest.

Meanwhile, the Wetherill family were living and ranching in the area, and had befriended the local Utes, who told them about the cliff dwellings tucked into the alcove. After gaining permission to winter their cattle in the canyons, Richard Wetherill spotted Cliff Palace and climbed up to it. He and his family and friends explored Cliff Palace and collected many of its artifacts. Some he sold to the Historical Society of Colorado, and many he kept for himself. The Mesa Verde dwellings were no longer a secret.

Cliff Palace – the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace – the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde

In 1891, the Wetherills hosted Gustaf Nordenskiöld, a Swedish explorer and mineralogist. He introduced scientific methods of collection and cataloguing of artifacts, and meticulously documented and photographed all of the artifacts he found. Unfortunately, he also packed up a large number of them and shipped them to Sweden. The collection then was acquired by the National Museum of Finland, where it still resides today. It’s really sad. This was a major catalyst in the dialogue for protecting the site in the future.

Fortunately, the movement to preserve Mesa Verde had a lot of interest, and was ultimately successful.  I’ll post about our visit to the park next!

 

 

SW National Parks Trip: A Last Bit of Arches

When we got back to the car after hiking to Landscape Arch, we began making our way back to the park’s entrance so we could get on the road.  Arches does not have a through road, so you drive several miles out to see what you want to see, and then turn around and drive back the way you came.  This gave us an opportunity to stop at some of the viewpoints and see a bit more of Arches from the road, before we headed on our way.

Arches National Park in Bloom – the red blooms are Indian Paintbrush

Arches National Park in Bloom – the red blooms are Indian Paintbrush

We stopped at the Salt Valley Overlook, a viewpoint that lets you see the diversity in the geology of the park and the beautiful La Sal Mountains in the distance.  This land used to be an enormous sea, so below all the sandstone is a layer of salt, hundreds of feet thick in places.

The view from the Salt Valley Overlook – Arches National Park

The view from the Salt Valley Overlook – Arches National Park

We saw Balanced Rock, which is a column of Navajo Sandstone with a 55 foot tall rock precariously perched on top.  It used to have a companion, aptly named Chip Off the Old Block, but Chip fell during the winter of 1975/1976.  Another reminder that the landscape is constantly changing, even if it seems to do it very slowly.

Balanced Rock at Arches National Park

Balanced Rock at Arches National Park

Our last stop was at the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint, close to the Visitor’s Center.  We saw Sheep Rock (it really does look like a sheep) and the Three Gossips.  I think Eagle Rock is a more fitting name for this one – because I thought the rock on the right looked like an eagle.  Do you agree?  We also spied Baby Arch, one of the smallest arches in the park.  Maybe one day, thousands of years from now, it will be much larger.  An arch has to be at least three feet to be considered an arch, but I’m sure Baby Arch is actually much larger than that.

Sheep Rock at Arches National Park

Sheep Rock at Arches National Park

The Three Gossips at Arches NP – I think it should be called Eagle Rock

The Three Gossips at Arches NP – I think it should be called Eagle Rock

After we left Arches, we headed down the road to our next destination – Cortez, Colorado. We made the two hour drive in good time, moving from the mesa and rock formations to a mountain forest pass, and then eventually farmland. Cortez is a small town of about 8,400 people at an elevation of 7,000 feet. We checked into our hotel (can you believe it was a Super 8?) and changed our clothes, and tried to wash a bit of the grit off our faces from our earlier sand facewashes.  Then we headed for a walk down Main Street to find some food.  Just an aside: after growing up in a town with no Main Street, I love it when small towns have one!  Jon was in a beer mood again, so we went to the Main Street Brewery (fitting name right?).

It wasn’t very busy the evening that we were there, and the service was fast and friendly.  They brought us samples of a few of the beers to help us make a decision, and Jon selected their IPA.  I went with the Honey Raspberry Wheat beer, which has local honey added during the brewing process and raspberries added during the finishing.  It is a light beer that wasn’t too sweet.  Perfect!

Beer Samples come in a fancy glass here

Beer Samples come in a fancy glass here

For food I ordered the Nutty Blue Salad, which had dried cranberries, candied walnuts and blue cheese crumbles on a bed of romaine lettuce.  And it was topped with medium rare Angus steak strips.  Delicious!  Jon had the Rocky Mountain Trout, with rice pilaf and seasonal vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms and onions).  He also enjoyed a second beer – their Schnorzenboomer Amber Dopplebock – say that 3 times fast!  It was a deep amber beer with lots of malty flavors.

My Nutty Blue Salad – dried cranberries, candied walnuts, blue cheese crumbles and Angus steak strips

My Nutty Blue Salad – dried cranberries, candied walnuts, blue cheese crumbles and Angus steak strips

After a very enjoyable meal, we strolled back to the hotel to call it a night – we had Mesa Verde National Park to look forward to in the morning!