Great surface ruins at Mesa Verde NP
Mesa Verde National Park, located in southwestern Colorado, is one of America's most famous national parks, and is known the world over for its famous cliff dwellings like Spruce Tree House and Cliff Palace. What most people don't realize until they reach Mesa Verde is that the surface of the mesa was covered in dwellings, some much older than the cliff dwellings, some the same age as the cliff dwellings. Several hundred people were living on top of the spurs of Mesa Verde, above its deep canyons. One great place to see these dwellings, and one of the places with the highest prehistoric population density, is at the Far View complex of sites.
From the Mesa Verde NPS: Far View was one of the most densely populated parts of the mesa from A.D. 900 to about A.D. 1300. Nearly 50 villages have been identified within a half square mile area, and were home to hundreds of people. Today, several excavated and stabilized sites are linked by a trail system within a short walking distance. These surface sites include Far View House, Pipe Shrine House, Coyote Village, Far View Reservoir, Megalithic House, and Far View Tower.
Ancestral Puebloans were living at Far View at least 200 years before they began building the more famous Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. Excavation also reveals that many Ancestral Puebloans chose to remain in their mesa top community well after many of their neighbors moved into the cliff alcoves.
From the parking area the obvious ruin in front of you is Far View House. This makes a good starting point, so take your time exploring the perimeter of this site. Note the stonework in the walls, and contrast that with the fine tabular sandstone work of Chacoan masonry, and the cruder Kayenta-branch construction that relies heavily on jacal techniques. Far View House is one of the largest of the Far View sites.
To the south across what was probably a large communal plaza is Pipe Shrine House. While Far View House is aligned to the cardinal directions and has several kivas, Pipe Shrine House is angled and only has one kiva. Why?
Head back towards the parking area. Another trail branches off to the south, and this will take you through the pinon-ponderosa forest to Coyote Village. Like Far View House, Coyote Village is squared to the cardinal directions. It is larger than Pipe Shrine House, but smaller than Far View House. It also has multiple kivas, but they are all smaller than Pipe Shrine's single kiva, or the largest of Far View's kivas. Why?
Head back towards the parking area on the same trail. On the north side of the parking area another trail takes off, heading towards Far View Reservoir and Far View Tower. Neither of these sites were habitation sites; the reservoir trapped rainwater and runoff to allow for consistent watering of crops. For more insight into the farming practices of the Mesa Verde Anasazi, see the nearby Cedar Tree Tower/Farming Terrace Trail. The towers of Mesa Verde, and elsewhere across the region, are slightly mysterious. Some speculate that they were used as methods of communication, while others, pointing out their close association with kivas, suggest a ceremonial role. The truth will likely remain hidden for some time, and may in fact be some blending of the two.
When you have seen all the sites at the Far View Complex, return to your vehicle and continue your tour of Mesa Verde.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.