News & Events // Park Stories // Crown Jewel in Peril - Durango Herald

Crown Jewel in Peril - Durango Herald

Scott Travis stepped delicately around the ruins of Cliff Palace, his eyes deftly scanning the sandstone bricks, the carefully carved windows and the well-worn wooden beams of at one of Mesa Verde National Park’s most extensive cliff dwellings. Below him, hundreds of voices in a harmony of different languages filtered up through the air as tourist groups streamed through the ruins.

As he walked, Travis, the park’s chief archaeologist, pointed out cracks in the stone walls and misshapen kivas, the traditional buildings used by the ruins’ architects for gatherings and ceremonies.

But the stability and preservation of Cliff Palace, one of the park’s most iconic structures, is one of increasing concern for park officials. Of all the park’s ruins, the palace is unique in the scale of the problems going on there, Travis said.

“Ultimately, we’ve got a lot of localized things and a lot of broadscale (issues), as well, that we’re starting to see the effects of in a fairly dramatic way,” he said.

Cracks in the Palace

The structures of Mesa Verde, including 600 cliff dwellings, were built by the ancestral Pueblo people who lived there from A.D. 550 to A.D. 1300. Cliff Palace is an intricate mix of towers, multistory stone rooms and kivas built into a soaring alcove in the canyon wall.

Officials estimate that 160,000 people visit this “interpretive centerpiece” of the park every year.

But many of the structures within the palace are exhibiting signs of destabilization and deformation that park officials call alarming.

A fault line running parallel to the back of Cliff Palace is threatening the southern half of the ruin and Kiva F, one of the key stops on guided tours. The structures are slowly sliding toward the lip of the alcove because the ground beneath them is loose material. Park officials have been forced to close Kiva F to tours to avoid further damage.

Read the FULL ARTICLE on the Durango Herald website.