Blog Not California

American castles

July 13, 2021

I love castles. I mean, I would never live in one because ghosts, but I love the stillness of a centuries-old stone building, the scale, and the history that you can feel in your bones even if not much of it has ever been written down.

Anyway, America is great and everything but it doesn’t have any castles. Except it kind of does, you just have to know where to look. First, there’s Castello di Amorosa, which is an “authentically styled 13th-century Tuscan castle” in Napa Valley but getting in for a proper look costs like 1/3rd of what you’d pay for a whole day at Disneyland, though to be fair it comes with wine so, you know, whatever your priorities are. Also it was built in the 1990s so you won’t feel any of that “history in your bones” stuff. Still, wine.

Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley, California. Built in the 1990s so as far as castles go, it’s kind of cheating.

The real American castles, though, are in the southwest at Mesa Verde National Park. It will forever be a mystery to me why Mesa Verde is one of the lesser-known national parks, because it’s got like 650 castles, which were built into cliff faces by the Pueblo people between 1200 and 1300 AD. Okay, so these structures don’t fit the classical definition of castles but they are absolutely astonishing, and definitely check the “stillness,” “scale,” and “history” boxes. Though not the “wine” box, sadly.

The 1/2 mile hike down to the Step House, the only cliff dwelling you could see up close when we visited the park in June 2021.

Remarkably, most of the Mesa Verde cliff structures were built during a single century. The Pueblo people started living in these structures in the late 1190s and by 1300 the dwellings had all been abandoned.

The Step House in person

Cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde range from very small structures (possibly just used for storage) to 150 room palaces. Because the Pueblo people didn’t have a written language, no one is really sure why they moved away, but it was likely some combination of factors like drought, conflict with other tribes, or just because resources were becoming scarce.

Petroglyphs. Fortunately, David does not seem to know about this place.

You won’t find any Beefeaters in Mesa Verde, unless you put a roast beef sandwich in your backpack or something, and then I guess you’re sort of a beef eater. No suits of armor, crown jewels, or gallows either. Just stillness, scale, and history that you can feel in your bones.

This dude is a Beefeater, in case you had no idea what I was talking about just then. (Photo by CyberCop, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)

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