Saturday, December 7, 2013

Day hike through ancient Anasazi ruins

Badger House interior on Badger House Community Trail.
Photo couresy of Mesa Verde NPS.
Badger House Community Trail, courtesy Mesa Verde NPS.
Forest fire swept
across mesa top

Families can learn how a forest recovers from fire and then explore six centuries of Anasazi village ruins, including a great kiva and a mysterious tunnel, on the Badger House Community Trail at Mesa Verde National Park.

The 2.5-mile trail sits atop the Weterhill Mesa in the Colorado park, which represents the United States’ largest archaeological preserve. More than 600 ruins can be found across 81.4 square miles.

Summer is the only time to hike this trail as the Weterhill Mesa road remains open just from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

To reach the trailhead, from Cortez, Colo., take U.S. 160 east for 10 miles to the park entry. From there, drive the steep road up to the mesa top. In 11 miles, the road reaches the Far View Area; turn right/north onto the Weterhill Mesa Road. Then drive about 12 miles to the end of the road where there’s a parking loop for your vehicle.

Families can take a tram to the trailhead – which reduces the walk to a 1-mile hike –or can head there directly from the parking lot. If walking, the trail leaves from the parking loop’s southeast corner.

Forest fire devastation, rebirth
Winding through an area recovering from forest fire, the sand trail offers a great opportunity to learn about nature’s cycles. Indeed, fires are common on the dry mesa tops, and many of the native plants depend upon it to survive.

The Pony Fire swept across the Weterhill Mesa in early August 2000, and the blackened, dead trunks of pinon pine, Utah juniper and Gambel oak remain. But beneath the eerie skeletal remains, green grass has sprouted as well as the shoots of Gambrel oaks. The forest likely will need about 300 years to recover to its state at the end of the 20th century, however.

While the fire destroyed modern park buildings, the ancient Anasazi structures largely were unaffected. A few ladders were charred and some stones broke into smaller pieces.

The trail crosses the tram road once during the fire devastation. Upon reaching the next tram road crossing, look for the Badger House tram stop and the trail at the T intersection’s southeast corner. This puts you on the actual Badger House Community Trail.

Anasazi ruins
From about 650 A.D. to the late 1200s, Native Americans resided at several sites in the Badger Hill Community. The trail proper offers 13 stops with interpretative signs. Four major sites require some lingering and further exploration than just a walk-by on the trail, though.

The first of them is the Pithouse, which dates to about 650 A.D. Prior to its construction, the mesa’s inhabitants largely led a nomadic hunting lifestyle, but the Pithouse indicates a shift to permanently settling at one site. The rooms here were used for food storage, and the building largely was built from timbers and mud walls.

Another important site is the Pueblo Village. Storage rooms here were expanded by adding several other rooms, beginning in about 750 AD. Most were made of adobe. The Great Kiva – a partially underground chamber used in religious rites – also exists here.

The next site, the Badger House, boasts the longest kiva and tunnel connection to a tower, in the Southwest. No one knows why ancient kivas were linked to towers.

Lastly, the Two Raven House was lived in from the 900s to the 1100s. It features a smaller kiva in addition to the larger one. During its habitation, a fence ringed the plaza.

The trail ends at the Two Raven House tram stop. Pick up the tram, which offers stops at the Kodak House and Long House overlooks before returning to the parking loop.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.