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Sounds of summer: An audio postcard from Mesa Verde National Park

 The Oak Canyon Dancers perform two songs on a hot summer day in July.
Chris Clements / KSJD
The Oak Canyon Dancers perform two songs on a hot summer day in July.

Mesa Verde National Park is home to stunning juniper and pinon pine forests and some of the largest cliff dwellings in North America.

KSJD's Chris Clements visited the park and caught a performance by Pueblo dancers, a tour of Cliff Palace, and learned about the connections from the past to the present of the Ancestral Puebloan people.

(MUSIC FROM PERFORMANCE)

HOST: We are the Oak Canyon Dancers, and we are from the Pueblo of Jemez, which is approximately 45 miles northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico. So we traveled this far to share some of our traditional dances and to visit some of our ancestors that have been here before.

(START OF THE SECOND SONG)

HOST: So this is our stronghold, where we carry on this tradition and culture. Mesa Verde – I don't know if you've seen the film at the front, up in the museum. We are featured in the film, the Oak Canyon Dancers. So if you see the singers in there, it's myself and my brothers in the dance group.

(MUSIC FROM PERFORMANCE)

CHRIS CLEMENTS: Cliff Palace is the largest dwelling in the park, with over 150 rooms, and the most well-known.

RICHARDS: Welcome to Mesa Verde National Park, as well as welcome to Cliff Palace. My name is Ranger Brady. You can also call me Ranger Richards. Just please do not call me Mr. Ranger, since that's my father.

CLEMENTS: After a few minutes, our group reaches the edge of Cliff Palace.

RICHARDS: We have more space down here. Feel free to grab a seat folks. We'll be here for a few minutes unless you want to suffer in the sun longer than we need to.

 The view of Cliff Palace from the trail.
Chris Clements / KSJD
The view of Cliff Palace from the trail.

CLEMENTS: Ranger Richards uses a green laser pointer to indicate to the stone kivas and towers of the dwelling.

RICHARDS: So if you look at the very base of the rock, right at the bottom, there's this really flaky layer called shale. So when water hits that shale layer, it's forced out the side of the rock creating a spring of water called the seep spring. That was the main water source for the Ancestral Puebloan people, and the main reason why they came down into these cliff dwellings in the first place: to get closer to that water source. Just to get closer to that seep spring. The sandstone cliffs itself also filter the water, so it's drinking water straight out of the rock.

CLEMENTS: Soon, the group walks around an open kiva in the middle of the dwelling floor as Ranger Richards wraps up the tour.

RICHARDS: The Ancestral Puebloan people and their descendants did not disappear. They did not vanish. And for those of you that are fans of Marvel, they did not get ‘Thanos snapped’ out of existence, they're still very much alive and living today. Some descendants just live in the town of Cortez, Colorado, just 11 minutes outside the park entrance. Others live within an hour drive of the park itself in different tribal reservations. Some descendants still work here as members of our staff, here at Mesa Verde National Park, some of which are my own supervisors and others are our interns as well as our volunteers.

In 2022, roughly 500,000 people visited Mesa Verde, slightly down from the previous year.

 A kiva in the floor, traditionally used for religious rites.
Chris Clements / KSJD
A kiva in the floor, traditionally used for religious rites.


Chris Clements