Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I've just returned from a short trip to the spectacular cliff dwelling ruins in Mesa Verde National Park. If you’ve never been you should. No perfectly composed, high-gloss, professionally done, light-and-color-captured-just-right photo in National Geographic can capture the splendor and magnificence of those archeological wonders. You need to physically be there, standing amongst the buildings to truly experience their grandeur. They are unforgettable. Just like that amazing wall of dinosaur bones at Dinosaur National Monument.

Of course, what is the first NPS structure I see the first morning as I drive out into Mesa Verde? None other than the Far View Visitor Center. This is the place to go to purchase tickets for the several ranger led walks to the big cliff dwelling sites. It is also very creepy because it’s a cylindrical visitor center with a winding ramp leading up to the entrance. My brain begins to ache…..where have I seen this ominous shape before?

On to Cliff Palace, a quite remarkable set of structures. It is the largest cliff dwelling in the park, composed of 23 kivas and about 150 rooms. The floor plan for most of the rooms and buildings is rectangular or square. That is easily seen, even from the gathering spot for the start of the tour even 150 feet above and a half-mile away. However, nestled in between these standard buildings is the occasional oddity. A different kind of building ----yet eerily familiar. These are the cylindrical buildings. I can clearly see these towers even from the far away starting point of the tour (see red arrow). They clearly stand out to the prepared, and apparently architecturally infected, brain. I begin to wonder --- are these the ancient Quarry Visitor Center Rotunda ancestors? I am mystified that no one else in my tour group seems to notice this weird phenomenon. Why does no one else see this? Am I some kind of Ralph Roberts of towers?

Here is a photo of a really fine tower in the Cliff Palace complex. It is about the same height as the QVC Rotunda. It is cylindrical like the QVC Rotunda. It is made out of rock slabs held together with mortar, similar to the cinderblock construction of the QVC Rotunda. Yet it is also fundamentally different. It does not have spiral cracks running around it. The top is not expanding outwards and overhanging the base. The second story floor is still in place and not collapsing. AND IT IS 700+ YEARS OLD!! Not a mere 50 years old like the Quarry Visitor Center at Dinosaur. How CAN this be? How could these ancient builders have produced a building that outlasts the QVC Rotunda by 15 times? Were they helped by ancient astronauts? Or maybe refugees from Atlantis, Lemuria, or Mu?

The answer may have inadvertently come from the ranger leading our tour. She revealed that the mortar used to hold the sandstone slabs together was made by mixing together soil, ashes, water, and urine. Might that latter component be the secret of eternal life for cylindrical rock buildings? I reported this discovery to NPS engineers upon my return. I thought it may not be too late to change construction specs for the new QVC. They hung up on me. Nevertheless, I shall marshal on and maybe even begin my own strength of materials experiments back in the office.

Photos: Dan Chure

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