Mesa Verde National Park Volume 2

Chapin Mesa is covered in Volume 2. Included in this Volume are mesa top sites, park buildings, and most of the sites along Mesa Top Loop Drive.

Cedar Tree Tower

Cedar Tree Tower is a small ceremonial complex located about 3/4 mile north of the entrance to Ruins Road on Chapin Mesa. The ruin consists of a circular tower built on a sandstone ledge with a subterranean kiva beside it. A tunnel leads from the tower to an opening next to one of the pilasters in the kiva.

Tower and kiva with the tunnel
visible to the left of the large pilaster

Tower and kiva
Cedar Tree Tower

Cedar Tree Tower

Chapin Mesa Park Buildings

The preponderance of Park buildings and facilities are located on Chapin Mesa. These include gift shops, reastaurants, Park administration buildings, and the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.

"Firemen" on Mesa Verde NP fire engine

Mesa Verde Museum Association

Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

Museum entrance

Mesa Verde, A World Heritage Site

Pueblo II Period Diorama

Pueblo III Period Diorama

Diorama figure molds

Museum displays

Developmental Pueblo Pottery
Museum display

Museum display

Stained glass mural
Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum


Spruce Tree House this way
Administration building (right)

Mesa Top Loop

In this section we will explore some of the earlier settlements and other ruins on Chapin Mesa. The tour proceeds counterclockwise around Mesa Top Loop Drive (formerly known as Ruins Road). The first part of the loop will take us past a series of pithouses, kivas, and unit pueblo structures from Basket Maker III and early Pueblo periods. Here we have the unique opportunity to study the evolution of puebloan architecture from AD 600 to 1200 all in one place. After touring these early mesa top sites we backtrack a little to scope out Square Tower House in Navajo Canyon. Then we continue around the rest of the loop drive for terrific views of several cliff dwellings in Fewkes and Cliff Canyons.

Site 117 - Earth Lodge B is a Basket Maker III pithouse constructed around AD 595. Earth Lodge B had a south-side antechamber with a stepped passageway, circular firepit, four holes for roof posts, and a storage cyst built into the sidewall. Try to identify these features in the following photos.

Wild turkey
(Meleagris gallopavo)

Interpretive sign

Earth Lodge B (Basket Maker III - AD 595)

Earth Lodge B

Interpretive sign

Earth Lodge B

Twin Trees Village is comprised of Sites 101, 103, and 102, whose structures were built on top of each other.
Site 101 was a Basket Maker III pithouse (pithouse #1 in the photos) that was part of a larger village built around AD 700. Pithouse #1 was constructed on the ruins of the antechamber of pithouse #2 in the photos.
Site 103 is part of a Pueblo I village built over the Basket Maker pithouses. It consists of a 4-room segment and a deep square pitroom. Visible in this square pitroom are the ventilator tunnel, wing walls, fire pit, 5 holes marking the position of a post and mud draft deflector, and roof post holes.
Site 102 is an early Pueblo II site consisting of 2 small rooms and a circular kiva built in the mid-900s. This pueblo had the beginnings of stone masonry construction.

Interpretive sign

South facing view of pithouse #1 showing ventilator shaft (Site 101 - AD 700)

South facing view of pithouse #2 (front)
and pithouse #1 (rear) (Site 101 - AD 700)

Four room segment of
Pueblo I village dating from 850 AD (site 103)

Interpretive sign

Pitroom details - Site 103

Details of Kiva at site 102 (mid-900s)
progression from pithouse to kiva

Site 16 includes the ruins of structures from 3 separate periods, an early Pueblo II unit pueblo, a late Pueblo II unit pueblo, and a Pueblo III ceremonial structure with 3 towers and a kiva. The early Pueblo II (900s) site consisted of a linear room block and a kiva. The late Pueblo II (1000s) site was a small rectangular room block built on the ruins of the earlier unit pueblo, and a detached kiva. The early Pueblo II kiva was backfilled with dirt removed during the construction of the late Pueblo II kiva. One of the Pueblo III towers was built on top of both of the Pueblo II kivas.

Pueblo III tower built over late Pueblo II kiva

Early Pueblo II kiva - Pueblo III tower built over it

Early Pueblo II kiva at Site 16

Pueblo III tower

Large kiva
Part of Pueblo III ceremonial group

Tower and low walls of Pueblo III cermonial structure

Sun Point Pueblo (probably Pueblo III) was a village of 20 surface rooms. These were built around a tower and kiva that were connected by a tunnel.

Sun Point kiva
Tunnel opening visible (upper right)

Tower and kiva
Sun Point Pueblo

Square Tower House is located in an alcove in the west wall of Chapin Mesa. Views presented here are from the Square Tower Overlook. Square Tower House had 7 kin kivas and 70+ rooms. The namesake "square tower" is 4 stories tall, and once had a 3-story building in front of it, and a 2-story building in front of that.

Square Tower House (1989 - film)

Square Tower House (1995 - film)

Square Tower House (2010 - digital)

SW section of Square Tower House (1995)

NW section of Square Tower House

Square Tower House

Sun Point View is an overlook located at the edge of Chapin Mesa where Mesa Top Loop Drive turns 180° to follow the south rim of Fewkes Canyon. Visible ruins include Sunset House and Cliff Palace in the east wall of Cliff Canyon, and Sun Temple, Mummy House, and Oak Tree House on the north side of Fewkes Canyon.

Sunset House
View from Sun Point

Sunset House
View from Sun Point

Sun Point View
Cliff Palace (left)

Cliff Palace
View from Sun Point

Mummy House
Mouth of Fewkes Canyon

Oak Tree House

Panorma of north wall of Fewkes Canyon
Oak Tree House (far left) - Mummy House (far right)

Fewkes Canyon joins with Cliff Canyon near Sun Point. Mesa Top Loop Drive runs along the south rim of Fewkes Canyon. Near the head of the canyon there is a junction with a road that follows the north rim to Sun Temple. Ruins in Fewkes Canyon include Mummy House, Oak Tree House, New Fire House, and Fire Temple.

Mummy House was built on the upper and lower ledges of an alcove below Sun Temple. Ten rooms and 2 kivas are located on the lower ledge, and a two story building that contained a well preserved mummy is on the upper ledge.

Mummy House

Mummy House
Sun Temple above left

Oak Tree House had 52+ rooms and 6 kivas. Retaining walls were built in front of the alcove and the space behind them filled to create additional level ground. Several storage rooms were built on a narrow ledge above the main structure.

Oak Tree House

Interpretive sign
Oak Tree House

Oak Tree House

Oak Tree House

New Fire House and Fire Temple
New Fire House had 20 rooms and 3 kivas built on two ledges. Fire Temple contained a rectangular great kiva. Features common to great kivas that are visible include a large circular firepit, two rectangular vaults, and a bench around the periphery. Some red and white plaster still remains on the back wall.

Fire Temple/New Fire House

New Fire House (1995 - film)
3 kivas and 20 rooms on 2 ledges

New Fire House (2008 - digital)

West end of New Fire House

Fire Temple (1995 - film)

Fire Temple (2008 - digital)

Sun Temple construction started in AD 1275 but stopped a year or two after that, and the structure was never really completed. The main part of the structure consists of 2 circular rooms enclosed by two concentric walls in a D-shaped configuration. The space between the walls was partitioned into a series of rooms connected by doorways. A west annex consisting of a room block and two additional circular rooms is surrounded by the outer wall, maintaining the D-shape. There is also a tower to the east of the main structure. Sun Temple is thought to be a ceremonial structure, and possible also an observatory of sorts.

The National Park Service capped the walls with cement, and in my visits as late as 1995 you could walk on top of the walls. Sometime after that the NPS decided that wasn't such a good idea, so there is no more wall walking.

Interpretive sign

Sun Temple (1989)

Rooms between the double walls
Sun Temple (1995)

Sun Temple (1995)

Sun Temple (2008)

Sun Temple

Sun Temple - no climbing on the walls

Cliff Palace View Point, located near Sun Temple, is the last stop on our tour. There are some cool views of Cliff Palace and Sunset House from here. There is not much else to see on the way back. Be sure to stop at Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe for a snack and cold beverage at the end of the tour.

Cliff Palace View sign

Bear proof recycling

Cliff Canyon

Sunset House
View from Cliff Palace Viewpoint

Cliff Palace
View from Cliff Palace Viewpoint

Cliff Palace

Source material obtained from Anasazi Ruins of the Southwest in Color by Ferguson and Rohn and National Park Service sources.
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