Cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park


Yesterday the U.S. National Park Service celebrated its centennial. My family and I love visiting national parks, and during our recent road trip through New Mexico and up to Durango, Colorado, we couldn’t pass up the chance to see a new one (to us): Mesa Verde National Park.


Located in southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde was established in 1906 not to protect unique natural scenery, as in other parks, but to “preserve the works of man” — specifically cliff dwellings and other archaeological relics constructed by the Ancestral Pueblo people (formerly known as Anasazi) between AD 600 and 1300 — i.e., the Middle Ages in European history.


The sandstone-and-adobe multistory homes built under overhanging cliffs, for which Mesa Verde is famous, date to the latter years of this period — before that, simple pit houses dug into mesa tops were common — and were occupied for less than 100 years. By 1300, centuries before the first Spanish explorers arrived, the cliff dwellers had abandoned their homes and moved away. Theories on the abandonment include decades of drought, depletion of natural resources, and warfare.


Mesa Verde contains 600 cliff dwellings and more than 4,500 archaeological sites, and you can easily spend a day driving the twisting, hilly roads from site to site, stopping at overlooks, seeing the park’s dated yet informative museum, and, if you buy a ticket in advance, exploring one or two of the cliff dwellings on a ranger-led tour.


One of the best preserved cliff dwellings is Spruce Tree House (pictured here and above). It’s normally open for self-guided touring (which astonishes me, actually), but due to a recent rock fall and the danger of more, it’s indefinitely closed to visitors. Still, you can enjoy excellent views from an overlook near the museum.


During our drive through the park, we saw a coyote trotting along the road, unfazed when I slowed down to get a photo.


It was pretty hot that day, and I was surprised to see him around noontime. Coyotes are usually so sly.


We’d planned to tour one of the cliff dwellings, Cliff Palace (pictured here). But we goofed by not getting tickets the day before, and when we arrived early one morning, ready to hike, tours were already sold out until the afternoon. Not wanting to climb the cliff stairs in the soaring heat of mid-afternoon, we bought tickets for the following morning and spent the day driving through the park, which we enjoyed.


But the next morning, after two days of getting up before dawn, we were feeling lazy about dragging ourselves out of bed to make the one-hour drive from our rental house in Hesperus to the park and then another one-hour drive to Cliff Palace (the park is big). We didn’t return, to my semi-regret. The tickets were only $4 each, so it wasn’t a big expense, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be back.


And just look at it — isn’t it amazing to think of how old these ruins are, how they’re tucked precariously under cliffs in such an unforgiving landscape, and muse on what life must have been like for these early Americans?

If you go to Mesa Verde and want to do one of the ranger tours, be sure to buy tickets early; tickets must be purchased in person, up to two days in advance, at the Mesa Verde Visitor Center, the Colorado Welcome Center in Cortez, or a couple of other official places.

But even if you’re not up for a cliff climb at 7,000 feet, if you like history, archaeology, Native American cultures, or simply high-desert vistas, Mesa Verde is a fascinating park to visit.

Up next: Driving the scenic San Juan Skyway. For a look back at Georgia O’Keefe’s beloved landscape around Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets go on sale soon at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

High desert in bloom at Santa Fe Botanical Garden


Two weeks ago today we drove west on a spontaneously planned, cutting-it-close-with-the-first-day-of-school, two-week road trip through West Texas, northern New Mexico, and western Colorado. One of our early stops was Santa Fe, New Mexico, a beautiful old city we once regularly visited but hadn’t seen in 16 years. One of its newest attractions, opened in 2013, is the Santa Fe Botanical Garden.

Sited close to town on Museum Hill, the garden — still in its infancy, with only Phase 1 open at this time — makes for a pleasant hour-long meander under china-blue desert skies, with the rugged folds of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains visible in the distance.


Although the terrain is high desert (Santa Fe’s elevation is 7,199 feet), the sun-washed garden appears surprisingly lush with roses, lavender, switchgrass, agastache, and mullein.


Sparingly used as accents, cacti like eye-catching ‘Snow Leopard’ cholla (Cylindropuntia whipplei ‘Snow Leopard’) stand out beautifully, especially against the wine-colored blossoms of Mojave sage (Salvia pachyphylla) and reddish-pink sandstone walls.


I love that peachy-pink color echo!


Low walls create small garden rooms furnished with benches.


My daughter tries one out next to a stunning Mojave sage.


Any chance this can tolerate the Gulf of Mexico humidity and drenching rains of Austin? I wish! (See High Country Gardens for its listing, which suggests annual rainfall of 10-20 inches.)


Sometimes you have to get low to get a shot of a cool plant.


Here’s her quarry: a little prickly pear with valentine-like pads.


Warm-hued paths of decomposed granite edged with sandstone lead in straight lines through the main garden. Stone blocks add extra seating and natural accents.


Mullein and switchgrass


Agastache


Straight-line gravel and flagstone paths divide the main garden into a grid, with an orchard of fruit trees and an eco-lawn of native turf grasses anchoring the center.


Peach tree


In long borders on each side, shrub roses and lavender add color and fragrance.


Bees were working the lavender.


Roses and lavender, a treat for the nose


Another view of the orchard and lawn


Geranium ‘Rozanne’…


…and hardy plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) seem right at home here too.


Bluestem ephedra (Ephedra equisetina) caught my eye with its slender, upright, blue stems that are reminiscent of horsetail. Although dry loving, it’s clearly a spreader.


Several contemporary sculptures were on temporary display during our visit, including this one by Bill Barrett.


A wider view, with boulder-like sculptures by Candyce Garrett, part of the garden’s permanent collection


‘Radiant’ crabapple (Malus × ‘Radiant’), laden with rosy fruit against green and gold leaves (turning already?)


One more


We just missed by a couple of months the opening of Phase 2 of the garden, Ojos y Manos: Eyes and Hands, “a place to explore ethnobotany – the shared history of humans and plants in northern New Mexico – through hands-on experiences and observation.” Just across the red bridge — the 100-year-old Kearny’s Gap Bridge, relocated from Las Vegas, NM — workers were busily moving soil and stone and preparing planting beds for the projected October opening.


Back at the entrance, we rested in the shade of a tall-backed stucco banco, next to a trickling wall fountain.


Across the patio, a stylized ramada of rusty steel poles and bundled sticks crisscrosses over benches, offering little shade but creating interesting shadows.

Landscape architect W. Gary Smith, who designed the family garden at Austin’s own Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, designed Santa Fe Botanical Garden “to demonstrate environmentally sustainable gardening.” I’m sure it must already be inspiring locals to plant many of the beautiful plants on display here. I look forward to visiting SFBG again one day to see how it has matured.

Up next: Sightseeing in Santa Fe.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Hot child in the city: August Foliage Follow-Up


Surely August will be our last worst month here in central Texas. It can’t possibly remain blisteringly hot and humid through September, can it?


Yes, it can, and it probably will, but that’s why I love agaves, yuccas, prickly pear, and other tough plants. They breeze through a Texas summer looking as cool as an Austinite floating in spring-fed Barton Springs Pool. Here’s one of my current favorites, Agave applanata ‘Cream Spike’ (formerly Agave parryi ‘Cream Spike’), a pup given to me last fall by Bob Beyer of the blog Central Texas Gardening. Just look at those cream-and-lime-striped leaves and tidy, red teeth lining each crimson-spined leaf.


Agave x leopoldii is also a fine small agave for a sunny deck or patio. It needs some winter protection, but its coppery summer coloration — a little stressed from heat and drought — is especially lovely.


Out front, in the Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa) lawn, lemony ‘Margaritaville’ yucca easily withstands summer’s heat.


For the first time, I’m experimenting with keeping tillandias — aka air plants — outside during the warm months. I’ve managed to keep the big one on the left alive indoors for a couple of years, and I’d hate to lose it. But they look so perfect in my new Tentacle Pots that I decided to take the chance. I hope they don’t burn up in Austin’s summer heat! They’re in filtered shade, and I’m misting them with distilled water once a week.


Since today is Foliage Follow-Up — a celebration of great foliage — let’s venture outside my own garden for a moment. I spotted this honor guard of ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon hollies at the “castle” house in South Austin. Its narrow, upright form and tidy, evergreen leaves make ‘Will Fleming’ a great screening plant for a tight space, or a striking vertical accent.


At the same house, in the hell strip outside a limestone wall, a zigzagging row of large, silver-blue agaves is eye-catching too — like campfires with tongues of blue flame. Atop the wall, prickly pear finds a crevice home. None of these plants minds the heat or the Death Star, and they make architectural additions to the summer garden.

This is my August post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness is going on in your garden this month? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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