Thursday, August 22, 2019

Pithouse ~ Mesa Verde National Park



















Touring the ancient mesa top pueblo villages can provide insight into an important transitional period in Mesa Verde Culture history. On top of Chapin Mesa is where many of the earliest dwellings can be found. In this area, the transition from digging earthen huts to building complex stone block masonry structures can clearly be seen, because these ancient sacred places have been remarkably well preserved! In this area there are a variety of ancient earthen pithouses that were unearthed in their entirety and they look as they did when they were first abandoned. The excavated pithouses are now protected by tin building canopies, so they will be there for many future generations. Seeing a complete ancient pithouse is a rare sight indeed, so checking out these exhibits is a must to do when touring Mesa Verde National Park!

The sign that simply says "Pithouse" marks one of the landmarks to look for when visiting the Mesa Top Sites. Just like the sign infers, this structure is a classic early style shallow pithouse, complete with a sunken floor with holes in the perimeter for roofing timber poles. In this early design, there is a stone hearth at one end of the main room, instead of an earthen furnace dug into the ground at the edge of the pit. Pithouses like this one were an efficient utilitarian design and a good example of a functional pithouse can be experienced at the Salmon Ruins Tribal Park just across the border in New Mexico.

What makes this particular pithouse so important is this actually is one of the earliest structures built on Chapin Mesa. Pithouse was constructed by the Basket Weaver Culture during a period of time when Mesa Verde agricultural systems were first starting to flourish. The Basket Weavers predated the Pueblo Culture stone masonry builders by a few hundred years and during this transitional period a few pithouse-pueblo combination designs were built. These early age transitional structures have also been preserved at Mesa Verde and hours can be spent pondering over the significance while there.

Mesa Verde definitely is the place to view the real cultural history of America, which actually dates back well over 20 millennia back in time. Where the Mesa Verde Basket Weavers and Pueblo People came from is still a bit of a mystery and assuming that they all strolled over to the Americas on an ice age land bridge is not good to do, especially since there is evidence of a global seagoing cultures way back in ancient times. It is said that migrations from Cusco, Peru are what brought hybridized maize to this region, which is something to ponder over. All that can be said is the Pithouse is a prime example of agricultural beginnings, which eventually became the foundation for the Mesa Verde great house cliff dwelling society. For this reason, Pithouse is simply a must to experience!

Classic Highway 50 Tourist Traps! ~ Cañon City, Colorado





















Classic Highway 50 Tourist Traps! ~ Cañon City, Colorado



There are two long roads out west that were havens for weird tourist traps back in the golden age of automobile touring. Route 66 was the all time leader in roadside oddities and mind boggling tourist traps, while U.S. Highway 50 had a fair share too. Tourist traps have been around since the days of the old west and even back in those days the tourist trap themes adhered to the weirder, the better. Everything from rattlesnake farms to barbed wire museums could be found along these two western tourism corridors back in the old days, but in modern times the fun entertaining traditional tourist traps are getting fewer and farther between. 
Some folks relish the thought of exploring a weird tourist trap and shopping for one of a kind items, while others avoid tourist traps like the plague. Tourist traps of the west are an American icon and there are many entrepreneurs that have taken on the task of preserving the classic tourist traps of the west in recent years. Exploring the nostalgic past is what driving old roads like Highway 50 is all about and the weird tourists traps definitely fit into the picture by providing a place where visitors can relive America’s weird nostalgic past. This is the charm that lures unsuspecting tourists into the proverbial money trap! 
Back in the golden age of automobile touring, a vacation was supposed to be an exciting fun experience every step of the way. Ducking into a strange museum that features macabre exhibits or going to a realistic shooting gallery in a reproduction ghost town does have a way of keeping the passengers smiling and the roadside tourist traps certainly do break up the monotony of driving long distances. Tourist traps play an integral part in the western vacation experience and all it takes is stepping through the doors to see why!
When cruising along on Highway 50 near Royal Gorge, there are dozens of unique old fashioned tourist traps on the edge of Cañon City. The Arkansas River is right next door, so most of the local shops cater to white water rafting ventures, but there are a few weird tourist traps in the mix too. The Gold Mine Rock Shop is one of the largest gemstone and petrified wood stores in the Rockies. Hours can be spent looking through all the fine precious stones and big landscaping rocks are available too. There are a couple of traditional trading posts in this area that market authentic native artisan crafts and high quality western wear. Everything from custom saddles to tomahawks can be found in the trading posts and there are old fashioned arcades too. 
The weirdest of the weird in the Highway 50 Royal Gorge tourist trap zone has to be the Dinosaur Experience. Just seeing the gigantic life size brontosaurus standing by the road is enough to captivate all who pass by. Northern Colorado is a haven for dinosaur fossil hunting, so the Dinosaur Experience is a good primer for what lies in store further down the road.
Visiting a tourist trap can brighten up a long day or it can be a complete let down. The smiles or frowns all depend on the attitude when first stepping through the door, so be prepared to deal with those who would just prefer to wait in the car. Dragging an unwilling passenger into a tourist trap definitely is part of the game and this can lead to some good laughs! The tourist trap experience definitely is something to cherish during a long road trip.  For those who relish the thought of being an adventurous shopper, the Highway 50 tourists traps near Cañon City are certainly worth making the pilgrimage happen! 

Cokedale Coke Ovens ~ Colorado











Cokedale Coke Ovens ~ Colorado



Depending on the eyes of the beholder, the abandoned industrial relics of the past can either be environmental eyesores or scenic treasure troves. There are many old industrial sites in the Rocky Mountains that were abandoned shortly after the natural resources played out during key periods in history.  Many of the abandoned sites are from the Colorado gold and silver rush era of the mid 1800s, while others came from times of war, the industrial age and the years of westward expansion.  In nearly every case, after the prices of ore flattened out and smelting was no longer necessary after the demand was met, the industrial operations ceased and the structures were left behind.  Cleaning up their own mess is not exactly what American industries are noted for, but at least some of the old industrial age structures have now become tourist attractions because they were successful environmental restoration projects. 
Fat cats that turned a profit from industrial operations back in the 1800s rarely seemed to be concerned about cleaning up their own environmental disasters, so future generations got stuck with the consequences of the negligent behavior.  Some of the decrepit old abandoned mines are too dangerous to visit, because of ore processing contaminants, heavy metals and coal ash.  There are several Superfund Cleanup Sites in Colorado that have yet to be addressed, but overall, the reclamation projects have made headway.  Because the American culture values the historic past, the environmental cleanup projects usually include preserving the old structures for historical significance, which end up being tourist attractions.
The Cokedale Coke Ovens Historic Site is an example of how an old abandoned industrial area can be preserved as a historic attraction by means of environmental restoration.  Visitors that are interested in the history of the west are fascinated by these kinds of places, because these industrial sites enable visitors to relive an age when processing raw materials in a big hurry was necessary during times of westward expansion.  The Cokedale Coke Ovens produced a lot of coke long ago, which is an interesting topic in itself.  Coke is basically baked bituminous coal and this type of processed coal is necessary for making steel, because of its clean burning properties and the extremely high temperatures it yields.  The steel mills in Pueblo, Colorado are famous for making the steel that built the west and Cokedale supplied much much of the coke that was used for fueling blast furnaces in the iron foundries.  The Cokedale Coke Ovens supplied the heat that kept the molten steel flowing during an age when the railroads were spanning the west.
As part of the reclamation project, the Cokedale Coke Ovens were designated as a historic site.  This site is open to the public and access is free of charge.  The foot trails are easy to follow from the roadside, so it is easy to take a closer look at the old structures.  This is a great place to wander around, while learning a little something about Colorado’s historic past!
The Cokedale Coke Ovens are just a short drive away from Trinidad, Colorado and this site is easy to get to from Interstate Highway 25.  The little community of Cokedale is right next door to the coke ovens and this old historic town is also well worth checking out.  The Cokedale Coke Ovens present good photo opportunities and children genuinely take interest in discovering old the old artifacts.  If experiencing the 1800s industrial age of Colorado suits your fancy, then the Cokedale Coke Ovens is the place to go!