Green Living, Circa A.D. 550 – (Mesa Verde National Park)

Heading east from Paria Canyon we traveled through the Navajo Nation. This beautiful high dessert region of the United States has been home to people for millennia, and it’s easy to see why. Painted landscapes, towering plateaus, burning sunsets, and monoliths of ancient stone; the ‘four corners’ region is wide and sparsely populated.

Rising higher in elevation the landscaped changed from sage brush to deciduous trees and pine. From the city of Cortez, Colorado we found our first taste of fall with open-armed nostalgia. A short drive from the city brought us into Mesa Verde National Park, the first and only National Park created to preserve the architectural works of some of the oldest, and most developed of the indigenous societies that were present in the four corner’s area.

Mesa Verde National Park, while only 81.4 square miles (paling in comparison to Denali, Glacier, Yellowstone, etc.) holds some of the best preserved and most intriguing cliff dwellings in the world.

Despite the first buildings being created more than 1200 years ago, many of the building techniques suggest superior knowledge of and consideration for the environment. Built into the eroded hillsides of the high mesas, these interconnected community buildings utilized geothermal and passive solar heating techniques keeping the community warm through the harsh winter winds and snow of the 6,000 – 8,000 ft high mesa terrain, often with only a single central wood fire as supplement.

'Cliff Palace', the largest, and best preserved of the cliff communities.

Built quickly and with great skill, these communities were centered around a community area where tasks were shared to increase time for recreation, family, and education. Use of space and material was also critical in these cliff villages, with many sleeping quarters no more than the size of a king-sized bed. Waste was likely seen as inefficient and an unaffordable. Working with what they were given, structures were made from the existing cliffs, adobe mud, and sturdy branches. Above them on the flat tops of the mesas, they grew food and tended some livestock.

Focus on common space, designed with nature, and interconnected; Paulo Soleri, need only look to the indigenous skill of the ancient Puebloans for the realization of his sustainable city of the future. Mesa Verde is an example of sustainable design and development, frozen in time. While unavoidable climatic changes and European expulsion sent the populations elsewhere, the cliff dwellings are proof that with ‘green’ living is nothing new…

For more on Mesa Verde National Park click below:


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