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Cracks at Cliff Palace spark campaign to restore jewel of Mesa Verde
MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK -- 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 at one of Mesa Verde National Park’s most extensive cliff dwellings.
Below him: hundreds of voices in a harmony of languages as tourists 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 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 its problems, Travis 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.
The walls of other kivas are sagging or disfigured and large cracks run down the walls. Precipitation at the opening of the alcove and water seepage near the back have speeded the degradation of many structures.
Read about deterioration at the park (including that caused by visitors), what is being done to repair the damage, how much it will cost and how long it will take at the Durango Herald's website.