Mesa Verde (Part II) – Mystical Gem of Great Visuals

Mesa Verde (Part II) – Mystical Gem of Great Visuals


It was not the first time it happened. Our initial plan for Colorado was clear – we were going to drive 2,300 km to photograph spectacular Colorado fall colours. As always, we had a few other objectives and places that we would go to if we had enough time. Certainly, Mesa Verde was not our first priority.

However, one thing that we have learned over the years of our photographic travels was to be flexible, open-minded and abandon the plan if our instincts told us to do so. Sometimes things just don’t cooperate to make great imagery and you have to shift your plans on the run. This is exactly what happened during our recent trip.

On the first day our plan was to photograph the Dallas Divide – well known for its spectacular fall foliage. Upon arrival, not only was the weather not what we needed (it was sunny and cloudless) but the peak of the fall colours at the Dallas Divide was still a few days away (it was late due to a very unusual draught). We knew we didn’t want another average photo of the place so instead we opted to go and visit Mesa Verde (later on we photographed Kebler Pass with great results – look for our upcoming posts).

We didn’t regret this decision at all. As we wrote in our previous post, when we entered Mesa Verde National Park we knew this place was like no other. The visuals and atmosphere we encountered grabbed our senses and offered a great experience.

Mesa Verde is a well-preserved prehistoric settlement of the Ancestral Pueblo people, who arrived in about AD 450/600 and occupied this canyon until 1300. During this period, the Pueblo people created a chain of stone buildings including numerous cliff dwellings. Together with the spectacular landscape of the southwest Colorado Plateau, these buildings offer one-of-a-kind visuals.

Despite the very difficult terrain, the Pueblo people used sandstone blocks, which, mixed with water and and dirt, provided an excellent building material. Some 600 cliff dwellings have been recorded in Mesa Verde National Park. This includes the famous multi-storey Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Square Tower House. For those wanting more, there are additional 4,300 archaeological sites. The cliff dwelling sites range from small storage structures to large villages of 50 to 200 rooms. Other structures include farming terraces and check dams, field houses, reservoirs and ditches, shrines and ceremonial features, as well as rock art.




One of the largest sources of knowledge about Ancestral Pueblo people was their…trash. Indeed, they tossed scraps of food, broken tools and pottery down the slope in front of their homes. Of course they didn’t know that by doing so they would provide future generations with a wealth of knowledge about their civilization.

In about 1300, no one knows why, the people started to leave Mesa Verde in large numbers. Some sources cite climate change, population growth, competition for resources or conflict as factors in such an abrupt change. Today the Hopi of northern Arizona, the people of Zuni, Laguna and Coma and the pueblos of the Rio Grande are considered descendants of the Ancestral Pueblo people of Mesa Verde.      



The first photographer to visit Mesa Verde was William Henry Jackson. In 1874, guided by a local miner, he took the first images of the cliff dwellings. These photographs have helped spread the word about the area.   


Of course, today Mesa Verde is a popular tourist destination. As such, this creates challenges for photographers who would like to capture the place in its own way. First of all, some sites are swarming with tourists, leaving you little space to take photos that do not include modern people. I guess the best way to get around this problem would be to start taking photos just before closing time when most people have left. Also, due to the hidden location of some dwellings, you would need to know the time of day when the sun hits certain buildings. Because we were visiting for the first time, we didn’t know the tricks and our choices were limited. Fortunately, we encountered unbelievable clouds, providing us with diffused light.


Most of the images were taken with the X100S and the X-T1 paired with the XF 14mm F2.8.



2015 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Mesa Verde – The Ghosts of the Anasazi

Mesa Verde – The Ghosts of the Anasazi



As we entered Mesa Verde National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) we knew this place was like no other. Rocks and trees looking as if they were placed there with the utmost care by some immortal force cover the unreal vista. Then there are the skies!

In A.D. 550 the first people moved into Mesa Verde creating spectacular cliff dwellings that provided shelter for the next 700 years. Archaeologists have called the occupants Anasazi, a Navajo word translated as “the ancient foreigners.” Indeed, they created a place of cosmic magnitude.

Mesa Verde is well known in some circles for its paranormal activities and there have been numerous ghost sightings reported (for those interested there is plenty of material on the Internet). Such endeavours are outside our field so in the next post we will write about the history, culture and visual aspects of this amazing place.

Here are the first images we captured while driving along the winding road in the park but much more is coming.

Most images were shot with the X100S and Fuji X-T1 paired with the XF 14mm F2.8.










2015 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

On The Road with the X-series

On The Road with the X-series

The recent lack of new posts was not result of our break from photography. Quite the opposite! We have been busy travelling and photographing one of the most incredible places in North America. This time our bag included the Fuji X100S, the Fuji X-T1 paired with the XF 14mm F2.8 and the XF 50-140 F2.8. All images presented below were shot with this combo.

The road itself provided us with a plethora of opportunities.


Then we visited some abandoned mines in Colorado.


For a change of scenery, we drove south to visit Mesa Verde National Park.


We also visited St. Elmo ghost town.


Of course, our trip would be not complete without taking advantage of the fall foliage at Kebler Pass.




On the way back we stopped at Grand Teton National Park.


And visited our favourite place, the Palouse.


Kasia and I have a lot of material which we will present in our upcoming posts including a discussion about preparing for photo trips, thoughts about composition, creativity, post-processing and some gear titbits. Stay tuned for much more.


2015 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.