Mesa Verde Part 1.5 of 2: Interpretation

The ranger station was in chaos. People in line were shouting at each other, and an elderly man shoved a small Asian lady out of the way so he could farther forward in line. She staggered and almost fell–I hollered at the guy and asked her if she was okay.

Wow. Mesa Verde. Okay then.

When you get to Mesa Verde you have several different choices of what to do–the Ranger you buy your passes from acts as a tour guide/scheduler. You can try to take in all of the ranger guided tours, walk around on top of the Mesa, or go on a few small hikes. The ranger guided tours are the only way to actually enter most of the ruins, so that was the option that we picked. The day before we stopped in Silverton, where a nice shopkeeper told us, “Mesa Verde only really takes about 2-3 hours. You check out the ruins and the rest of the stuff…it’s just holes in the ground.” Still, we gamely signed up for a full day of touring and wandering around. First we went to see the cliff palace complex, during which the ranger ran down the basics about the Ancestral Puebloans: they had to manage water, they farmed on top of the mesa, they climbed up and down using toe holds in the rocks and wow wasn’t that crazy? She was actually pretty good, considering that she had to speak to about 30 people of varied age and education. I usually don’t say much during guided tours, but I did ask about the conservation and reconstruction of the pueblos–were they indicating their reconstruction efforts in any way to make them obvious to the outside observer? The answer was yes, they were trying different colors of mortar to show different periods of reconstruction. After the tour we decided to strike out onto the mesa top, and by striking out, I mean driving along a road to each of the interpretive spots.

In stark contrast to the lady in Silverton, I enjoyed the hell out of the holes in the ground–how surprising! They have some open excavations on display, though I will admit that they don’t look like much these days. The dirt profiles and remains of pits have been heavily eroded and consolidated to preserve the display. It was interesting to see, as they have similar problems at Catalhoyuk, trying to keep year-long displays of crumbling mudbrick looking good is a near impossible task. There wasn’t any information about who dug what when, which was a little annoying, and there could be a lot done with virtual tours that would hopefully make the excavations more meaningful than just “holes in the ground” to non-specialist visitors. Much of the rest of the day was like this–speculating about interpretations and wondering about the details that were omitted from the tours and signs. We did have a spectacularly, hilariously bad tour of Long House, in which I wondered if the ranger was actually completely drunk or if she had debilitating social anxiety. We ended up just ignoring her and checking out the outstanding preservation of Long House–the seams in the buildings, blocked-off doors and re-built walls kept me occupied in wondering if anyone had bothered to phase the architecture in each of the settlements. Something to poke into while further procrastinating on my dissertation, I suppose.

(…to be continued – word counts are problematic these days!)

Author: colleenmorgan

Dr. Colleen Morgan (ORCID 0000-0001-6907-5535) is the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology and Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. She conducts research on digital media and archaeology, with a special focus on embodiment, avatars, genetics and bioarchaeology. She is interested in building archaeological narratives with emerging technology, including photography, video, mobile and locative devices. Through archaeological making she explores past lifeways and our current understanding of heritage, especially regarding issues of authority, authenticity, and identity.

One thought on “Mesa Verde Part 1.5 of 2: Interpretation”

  1. Yeah, this is one of the major things about Mesa Verde; they get so many visitors that it’s kind of a zoo, especially when you’re getting the tickets for the tours. The unevenness in the quality of the interpretive staff is another effect of the level of visitation. There are reports published on most of the sites excavated on Wetherill Mesa, btw, and they’re all listed here. Some of them are also available online, linked from that site, although the Long House one isn’t. The quality of the reports from the Wetherill Mesa Project is generally pretty high, which isn’t the case for most of the earlier excavations at Mesa Verde.

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