Farming Terrace

Round Trip Distance: 0.5-0.7 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 6999 - 7120 feet
Cellphone: 0-1 bars
Time: 30 mins.
Trailhead: Farming Terrace
Fee: $20/vehicle (May 1 to October 31) $15/vehicle otherwise
Attractions: Ancestral Puebloan farming site and ruin

The Farming Terrace Loop trail is located near the end of the Cedar Tree Tower road in the Mesa Verde National Park. The trail passes through hillside terraces that are prime examples of how the Ancestral Puebloans used check dams to slow down the natural runoff and retain the top soil for planting their crops of corn, beans and squash.

The trailhead is located on the south side of the road about a tenth of a mile from Cedar Tree Tower. The loop trail is only about a half mile long but you can add a couple more tenths if you want to walk over to Cedar Tree Tower and tour it without having to move your vehicle.

The easy to follow trail begins by heading away from the road along the gently sloping hillside. Some of the rocks that were used to make the terraced gardening spots are visible in places on both sides of the trail.

As the trail comes closer to the crease that funnels most of the runoff to the gullies below it begins descending the hillside.

There are a few rocky sections of trail that would make it unsuitable for managing a stroller. Toddlers should be able to do just fine with a little help.

The best terraces are in the wash where the trail descends the hillside. It appears that the park service has done a little work to restore the terraces along this section of the trail. If you have seen a Puebloan garden before you can almost picture what it would have looked like at the Farming Terrace. There are no longer any crops being planted here but the grass and brush are growing just fine in their place.

Near the bottom of the wash the trail loops back toward the road by following another draw. There are the remnants of a few more check dams in this draw that haven't had any restoration work done on them. Near the top of the draw there is a larger dam that you can get a glimpse of that is mostly overgrown with bushes. This section of the trail is the moderately strenuous part the trail sign refers to.

The trail comes out on the road between the trailhead and the Cedar Tree Tower ruins. The simplest thing seems to be to walk on over to the ruins before returning to the trailhead. The ruins consist of a tower and kiva with a connecting tunnel. So, were the occupants of the tower the land barons that controlled the Farming Terrace or perhaps the terrace was a community effort and they simply guarded it? Another technique of farming that would have been used on the mesa tops would have been the waffle garden as seen on the post for the Hovenweep Goodman Point ruins.

The Farming Terrace trail is well worth the half hour or so that it takes to see a real example of a prehistoric gardening area. A person can't help to wonder as they tour the ruins of Mesa Verde how the inhabitants managed to eek out a living in such a place. It is easier to imagine if you consider that they only ate and drank what they needed each day to just stay alive and not the large amounts that most people eat today. And, of course, when you cut back that much on eating and drinking then you would tend to only need to expel a much smaller amount of waste once or twice per week. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.