Fault line threatening Mesa Verde ruins

A National Park Service ranger guides some of the estimated 160,000 annual visitors to Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park on a tour of the ruin. Archeologists are making plans to stabilize the site.

Maybe time finally is catching up with the ruins at Mesa Verde National Park.

Archeologists at the famed park are saying a fault line at the back of the iconic 13th-century ruin Cliff Palace is threatening two of the ruin’s kivas and causing part of the ruin to slide downhill.

Many of Mesa Verde’s half-million visitors each year take in Cliff Palace, a multistoried stone-and-adobe centerpiece composed of stone towers, multilevel rooms and underground kivas fitted by exact hands into a giant alcove in the canyon wall.

While concern about the increasing human traffic has long worried the caretakers of this “interpretive centerpiece” of the park, recent discoveries are more worrisome.

Park officials say a fault line running parallel to the back of Cliff Palace is threatening the southern half of the ruin, and Kiva F, a circular structure popular on the park’s guided tours, now is closed to prevent further damage.

The walls of other kivas are sagging or disfigured, and large cracks run down the walls of the buildings.

It’s not just human impact. Moisture seeping into cracks in the back walls, the burrowing of rodents, even birds nesting in the alcoves, affect the stability of the ruins, said Scott Travis, head archeologist at Mesa Verde.

“The lower portion (of Cliff Palace) is literally shearing or slipping down,” Travis told the Durango Herald in an earlier story.

Other factors impacting the ruins’ stability include the manner and method of past and ongoing preservation.

Some preservation attempts “added outdated modifications and materials that preservationists now have to work with,” Travis said.

“It’s a complex equation, putting it all together,” Travis told the Herald.

Park officials say they still are unsure how fast the damage is proceeding, and Cliff Palace remains open for tours while restoration plans are underway and runoff water is rerouted.

Archeologists roped off Kiva F to tours and continue to evaluate and monitor the site.

“Cliff Place is important to the history of the area, it’s a sacred site for our tribes, and it’s important to the economy of the area as well,” Mesa Verde National Park superintendent Cliff Spencer said. “We are working toward a solution to stabilize Kiva F and Cliff Palace itself.”


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