Cool Artifacts of the American Southwest
I still remember the first time I saw one. Throughout the American Southwest, the cool, abandoned, ancient cities can be seen. Mesa Verde. Honanki. Comb Ridge. Technically, they’re known as cliff dwellings, age-old settlements built under cliffs, some a couple thousand years old. They’ve been getting attention at least since Mesa Verde was rediscovered in Colorado in 1906 and selected for preservation as a historic site. And they’re getting attention for good reason, too.
I have a confession, which probably isn’t so controversial it deserves to be labeled a confession, though I’ll refer to it as such: I love living history. That is, I like history that isn’t merely confined to the pages of a history book or some dry lecture by a professor with a Ben Stein monotone. Bueller? Bueller? I love any kind of history that’s still standing. I love preserved ruin, old junk, and abandoned buildings that I can poke through. While I have and employ an active imagination, one that helps me envision what things were like in a lot of different historical settings, I love any sort of evidence that gives me a concrete idea of the times.
Case in point: My grandparents have owned a ranch in Northern California for the last 50 years, roughly, and the place is a cornucopia of living history. It could be a museum and practically is already. There’s old farming equipment still strewn about the property, long-dead cars parked here and there, Indian arrows and stones occasionally found in the farmland. The main ranch house itself is Victorian and dates to the 1890s. One of my earliest memories is of my mom and stepdad getting married there, and I doubt they could have picked a better spot in historical terms, both family and otherwise.
Perhaps my favorite part of the ranch is this two-story 1930s worker camp. The building’s almost entirely wooden, completely unstable, and unsafe to walk around in, which is all totally part of its allure. The place (and the ranch in general) is a historian’s dream, to me at least. No one’s lived in any part of the worker’s camp since the early ’70s, and the stuff in the pantry in the last occupied unit looks like it’s been there about that long. The lady on the Tide box has a beehive hairdo.
So now dial the ranch back about 2,000 years and you get a cliff dwelling like Mesa Verde. I can only imagine all the treasures that must have greeted the first explorers who stumbled upon it back in 1906, maybe glazed ceramic tiles, old cave paintings, perhaps the occasional shallow ceremonial grave now unearthed by erosion and time. It would be a bit like seeing the artifacts of a shipwreck scattered about on land. And that’s part of the charm and enchantment, I suppose.
Thanks to preservation efforts, Mesa Verde and other cliff dwellings are in decent shape today. Hopefully they last another 2,000 years so that many more people as curious as myself can see them.
Tiffany Han is the author of this article about glazed ceramic tile. She is an interior designer for over 25 years and love to go fishing and boating in North Carolina during her free time.