Revisiting Mesa Verde National Park

by Scott Lee
March 1, 2017

Last week, the CyArk Field Team made a special trip out to Colorado. The subject: the incredible Mesa Verde National Park, one of our teams' favorite projects and an outstanding example of the Ancestral Pueblo People's architecture and engineering. CyArk first partnered with the National Park Service way back in 2005 to record the site as a supplement to the Parks historic documentation records. 

It is always a treat to get so close to the sites that we work on, and this trip was no different. Archeologist Kay Barnett of the Park's Research and Resource Management division, accompanied CyArk's Director of Programs, Scott Lee, Director of Partnerships, Anthony Fassero and Field Manager, Ross Davison through the Park lending a helping hand and archaeological eye to our efforts. Kay guided the team to the most historically significant portions of Balcony House and those areas that are experiencing critical conservation issues. Her expertise was invaluable. Kay has been with the Park Service at Mesa Verde for well over a decade, having overseen the CyArk Team back in 2005, including then student at UC Berkeley, Anthony Fassero. 

Since our last trip to Mesa Verde the technology has advanced rapidly allowing us to capture far more and higher quality data then we did over a decade ago. CyArk's capture methods have also much advanced. With a host of new tools at our disposal, the team was eager to return. Over the course of two days, the team captured dozens of scans and thousands of photos of Balcony House, one of the renowned cliff dwellings in the park. 

With CyArk's renewed commitment to sharing the treasures within the archive, and new work in the realm of Virtual Reality, this trip offered the opportunity to test our new capture methods at a site we know well. As we continue to delve into Virtual Reality, it is essential that we revisit our methods and standards and square them with the capabilities of our latest equipment. While CyArk is fortunate to have always captured well beyond industry standards for completeness and resolution, VR has given us new technical challenges to overcome. Digital photography in particular has advanced in leaps and bounds. DSLR cameras only came on the market around 2000 and by 2005, when we last visited Mesa Verde, high-end cameras maxed out around 10 megapixels, a figure most modern smartphones can top. 

With the Park Service's notoriously strict UVA rules and the dramatic overhang of the cliff dwellings, the use of a drone was ruled out in favor of terrestrial methods. Eager to put all options to the test, CyArk borrowed a Z+F 5010C from our partners and Bay Area neighbors, Autodesk to conduct the scanning. While not CyArk's everyday machine, we jumped at the chance to use this top-of-the-line scanner. CyArk also brought a host of photography equipment from both Canon and Nikon, including the 50MP 5DSR. 

The Programs Team is currently working to process all of the data collected and create a VR environment for exploration. 

Stay tuned for project updates and more photos from the field on CyArk's social media channels. 

CyArk would like to thank Joe and Tina Turner for their hospitality in support of the project, Autodesk for use of their scanner and Mesa Verde National Park for sharing the incredible treasures they safeguard. 


The CyArk field team with Archeologist Kay Barnett (NPS)
Scott Lee and Anthony Fassero photographing Balcony House for VR
Ross Davison scanning Balcony House at Mesa Verde