Mesa Verde's NPS website has surprisingly little information about the park's history and people, but you can read about them here and here.
Eighty percent of the plants at Mesa Verde were edible.
The Ancestral Puebloans used "check dams" to direct water to their farm fields.
Over time, farming on the mesas may have denuded the land of trees.
According to a ranger, the Ancestral Puebloans had no metal except copper bells acquired in trade.
According to a ranger, cannibalism occurred only at a couple of sites. Archaeologists think it was a dire necessity--a Donner Party-style situation--not a customary practice.
Climate change (the Little Ice Age, drought) is the leading explanation for why the people "disappeared."
The Ute Mountain reservation surrounds the southern half of Mesa Verde. The Ute Mountain Tribal Park also contains ruins and the Utes collaborate with the feds to study them.
The Utes used to own the entire parkland. Here's the short version of how they lost it: Utes respected the ruins but didn't have the resources to prevent looting. Public demanded the federal government protect the ruins. Under pressure the Utes ceded the land to the feds, who created the park in 1906.
The real scandal came when the feds realized the land they obtained didn't include the chief ruins. They threatened to confiscate a strip containing these ruins unless the Utes agreed to trade it for land they thought they already owned. Later analyses proved the Utes were right, so they essentially gave up Mesa Verde for nothing.
You can read sanitized versions of these dealings here and here (pgs. 7-8).
Come to think of it, many national parks used to be on tribal land but are now federal property. How did the Indians lose control of so many natural wonders? I bought a book titled American Indians and National Parks to find out.
Heading south on on Highway 160, we passed the Ute Mountain Casino. It didn't look impressive compared to the Vegas-style resorts elsewhere in Indian country.
At the Four Corners Tribal Park, my girlfriend complained about a toilet full of excrement. I replied that this is what they mean when they talk about Indians living in Third-World conditions. Navajo is an example of a poverty-stricken reservation little money for government services (no gaming revenues...yet).
After not seeing any patrol cars on the trip, we saw five on the Navajo rez. Were they trying to stop drunk drivers or catch speeding tourists?
In Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, we passed a school nicknamed the Red Mesa Redskins.
At the Anasazi Inn west of Kayenta, I felt like a minority for the first time on our trip. (My girlfriend gets this feeling daily in the predominantly nonwhite high school where she teaches.)
Driving back to Kayenta for dinner, the Navajo Tribal Police stopped us at a sobriety checkpoint. We passed muster.
The Reuben Heflin restaurant in Kayenta uses Land o’ Lakes butter (with its stereotypical Indian maiden).
The bill for our meal was less than expected because we were charged the low Navajo sales tax, not the high Arizona sales tax.
That evening the Navajos set off 25-plus minutes of fireworks at the local fairgrounds to celebrate Independence Day. They played patriotic songs with lyrics such as "I'm proud to be an American" over the loudspeakers.
As noted previously, we got a flier for the Monument Valley Film Festival and could've attended it personally.