As you travel about Mesa Verde look for seep springs — ready sources of fresh water for the Ancestral Puebloans.
Where is the Water?
Moisture, in the form of rainfall or snowmelt, percolates through porous sandstone layers until it reaches a dense, impermeable layer of shale. Prevented from percolating farther downward, the water is forced to the rock surface resulting in a seep spring in the canyon wall.
Throughout Mesa Verde, seep springs can be found at the base of the Cliff House Sandstone and Point Lookout Sandstone formations. These springs provided a ready source of fresh water for the Ancestral Puebloans. Where they lacked such springs, villagers had to collect water from potholes, creek bottoms, distant year-round springs, or build reservoirs.
Mancos Shale - Beginning more than 90 million years ago, thick layers of clay and silt were deposited when this region was covered by a shallow inland sea. The soft, easily eroded material is called Mancos Shale.
Point Lookout Sandstone - As the sea temporarily withdrew a little more than 80 million years ago, shallow water beaches and delta sands were deposited. They are now exposed in the cliffs of the Point Lookout Sandstone.
Menefee Formation - About 80 million years ago, as marine shorelines temporarily migrated to the northeast, this area had the relatively flat surface of a former sea bed. Deposits in stream floodplains, swamps, and low lying interstream areas are now seen as sandstone, coal, and woody shales.
Cliff House Sandstones - Beginning a little less than 80 million years ago, the sea once again advanced across the area. In the shallow water, sand was deposited in thick layers giving rise to the Cliff House Sandstone. More recently, erosion created alcoves that became homes to the cliff dwellers.
(Upper Left Photo Caption)
New Fire House in Fewkes Canyon shows the alcoves and niches formed in the Cliff House Sandstone.
— Photo courtesy of Mary Griffits
(Lower Center Photo Caption)
Seep springs at the base of the Cliff House Sandstone provided fresh water for the Ancestral Puebloans.
— Photo courtesy of National Park Service