Tower/kiva complexes exist through the greater southwest, but are primarily focused around the Mesa Verde/Montezuma Valley/Great Sage Plain areas. Their exact purpose is unknown, with ideas ranging between ceremonial towers where priests could ascend from the connected kivas, to the secular lookout/signal tower hypothesis, where the Anasazi could pass messages over great distances very rapidly. Their true purpose remains unknown today, but one thing is for certain; they are fascinating to observe, and Cedar Tree Tower is one of the best preserved examples of such construction that is open to the public. It is also very easy to access, as it is located right next to the parking area.
After you have seen the tower and kiva it is informative to take a hike along the Farming Terrace Trail. While up at the Far View Complex a checkdam and artificial lake were on display, here at the Farming Terrace, you can get a much better idea of how these ancient people farmed their food on such a high, rugged, and dry landscape. Even though you are at almost 7100 feet, the primary vegetation type is still pinon-juniper woodlands. Usually the transition to Ponderosa-dominated forests happens around 7000 feet above sea level. From the Mesa Verde NPS: Adjacent to the Cedar Tree Tower area is the trailhead for the Farming Terrace Trail. This 1/2 mile loop trail provides an opportunity for a leisurely hike. Along the trail there are good examples of Ancestral Puebloan check dams and farming terraces.
Terracing was a common strategy used by the people of Mesa Verde. Check dams were built along sloping, narrow drainages, creating the terraced effect. The dams slowed water runoff from rainfall or melting snow. As the water slowly ran down the drainage, soil would be captured behind each dam. These pockets of soil retained moisture and became perfect places for planting. The Farming Terrace Trail helps you to discover how farming was accomplished at Mesa Verde 800 years ago.
Seeing these ancient terraces still capturing water and enriching the soil is a pretty neat thing, and it can give you a real sense of connection to the past. Once you are done viewing these ancient farmlands, return to your vehicle by the tower, and continue your tour of Mesa Verde.
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