The Anasazi

Chaco Canyon

No one can study the history of the southwest USA, or the peoples of the prehistoric North America continent without coming across the fascinating tale of the Anasazi. And any story of the Anasazi will reference Mesa Verde National Park, located near the quaint, old-west-meets-hipster town of Cortez in the southwest corner of Colorado. Most people end up visiting the cliff dwelling ruins of “Cliff Palace” at Mesa Verde, and come away believing these structures represent the pinnacle of the Anasazi culture, the Upper East Side of Manhattan, if you will, of Anasazi existence. Many absorb in the spectacle that is Mesa Verde, and think of it as the “grand finale”, as this is where the Anasazi peaked and “disappeared” from. I know I did, at the time. But like they say in the as-seen-on-TV ads, “But wait, there’s more!”

Mesa Verde is Spanish for “green table”. As the park rangers love to point out, Mesa Verde is actually a “cuesta”, not a mesa. Mesas are flat on top, and cuestas drain off to one side. In the case of Mesa Verde, the entire drainage flows south, into the Mancos River, then into the San Juan, to the Colorado River, winds through the Grand Canyon, and finally to the Pacific Ocean.

Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House, Sun Temple, and countless other ruins and archaeological sites at Mesa Verde speak to the advanced cultural, agricultural, and architectural achievements of the Anasazi during their time there. 550,000 visitors annually visit Mesa Verde, and the vast majority come away awed by what they have seen. But what is the connection to Chaco?