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Notes from the National Park Vagabond: Mesa Verde National Park

Oct 28, 2016
This year the TR Center is joining with Valerie Naylor, former superintendent of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, to hunt out the TR related collections in parks dedicated by him. “My goal is to get items that are critical but that we haven’t seen before,” Naylor states. We will post updates of her travels and finds.

Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado is a fascinating place. Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill establishing the park on June 29, 1906. It was the fifth and final national park he established during his Presidency, although he also created 18 national monuments. Mesa Verde is best known for its spectacular cliff dwellings built by Ancestral Pueblo people, but there are 4500 archaeological sites in the park. Thousands of artifacts have been excavated or found over the years - and these extensive collections are curated by Dr. Tara Travis, who also offers incomparable assistance to researchers who want to learn more about the park and share it with the public. My search was in the park archives.

It’s a great experience to view the vast Mesa Verde landscape and ponder the people who lived there over the centuries, from 550 - 1300 AD. They raised corn, squash and beans on the mesa top, gathered wild plants, and hunted for food. They built complex communities above and below the cliffs, using tools made of any available material, which did not include metal.

In the late 1800s, there was concern over vandalism and looting of the ruins and artifacts. Two women - Virginia McClurg and Lucy Peabody, campaigned to protect Mesa Verde’s archaeological sites. They worked with the Ute Tribe, who lived on and claimed the land, to establish the national park.

Mesa Verde was the first national park set aside primarily for its cultural resources. The previous nine national parks were created for their outstanding scenery or natural resources. Today, there are numerous national parks and monuments set aside for their contributions to our cultural heritage.

My extensive search of the archives yielded very little related to Theodore Roosevelt, except a copy of the legislation that established the park. However, by his signature on the bill, he joined two determined women, the Ute Tribe, and many others who recognized the importance of Mesa Verde and worked to preserve it for future generations.  

Mesa Verde National Park is best known for its cliff dwellings such as Cliff Palace.

Mesa Verge pot

An exceptional pot from the collection at Mesa Verde.

Mesa Verde seeds

Artifacts from the Mesa Verde collection. The squash seeds in the photo are 900 years old. Ancestral Pueblo people grew squash on the mesa tops.

Posted by Valerie Naylor on Oct 28, 2016 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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