National Geographic : 1898 Oct
MESA VERDE ridge is so narrow that the rider looks down almost vertically on one side into the Montezuma valley and on the other into the head of the small canyons that lead to Mancos river. A misstep would throw a pack animal far down either slope. The peculiar form of the mesa is due largely to the existence of a heavy bed of sandstone which forms the top-capping and protects the softer underlying rock. This weathers and cracks in almost vertical cliffs all around the outer edges. In the in terior of the mesa, however, at the head of the numerous small canyons, erosion has proceeded in a peculiar manner, and one which was found by the aborigines to be highly favorable to their purposes. Along the edges near the top of the canyon cer tain portions of the sandstone have weathered, leaving great shelves, protected above by the overhanging masses. These shelves can be reached often with great difficulty, as the cliffs below them may be 100 feet or more vertically, and access from the top is almost impossible. The roof of these openings gradu ally slopes down to the floor, so that these great horizontal crevices or caves, as they are sometimes called, may extend back 50 or 100 feet, and in length may stretch for several hundred feet. Around and on the mesa are found numerous fragments of pottery or of chipped stone, and here and there mounds of refuse, showing the location of ruined houses or towns. The innumer able objects testify to the former presence of a large population. Ruins of stone towers on prominent points show that the arts of defense were an important feature of their life. It is, however, under the shelter of the great overhanging rocks that we find the ruins almost in perfection. Here, in the dry climate, protected from the occasional fierce storms, the dust of centuries has ac cumulated, and even organic matter has hardly undergone any change. The great stone houses and towers rise story upon story, and behind, in the piles of refuse thrown in the part of the cave where the roof approaches the floor, are the worn-out sandals, the broken pottery, and all the rubbish of a town. Here, evi dently, were kept great flocks of turkeys, and in the rubbish sometimes graves were made, the bodies now being dried to the condition of tough leather, being perfectly preserved mummies. The clothing on these, such as the feather robes, has retained its texture and even in places its color. No fragments of metal have been found, but all the implements are of bone, wood, or stone.