The first inhabitants of Mesa Verde date back about 1400 years. The largest cliff dwelling in North America Mesa Verde Cliff Palace was created by geology and exploited by man’s ingenuity. Skilled farmers, architecs, and engineers, the Puebloans worked the level land on the cliff top and the canyon bottom, and lived vertically inside the cliff face. They lived here only seventy years, possible forced out by a prolonged drought. Approximately one-quarter of the 150 rooms have hearths, suggesting that there were probably about 110 residents.
Image Credit: planetware.com
The Puebloans carved sandstone blocks and joined them with mortar made of soil, water, and ash. Tiny pieces of stone called chinking dot the mortar and provide structural integrity.
Tree ring dating indicates that construction and refurbishing of Cliff Palace was continuous from c. AD 1190 through c. 1260, although the major portion of the building was done within a twenty-year time span. Cliff Palace was abandoned by 1300, and while debate remains as to the causes of this, some believe a series of mega-droughts interrupting food production systems is the main cause.
The park occupies 81.4 square miles (211 km2) (211 square kilometers) near the Four Corners and features numerous ruins of homes and villages built by the Ancestral Puebloan people, sometimes called the Anasazi.
It is believed that the modern-day Pueblo Indians are the direct descendants of the Anasazi. The term Anasazi is taken from the Navajo word meaning “the ancient ones.” Today the term has been replaced by “Ancestral Puebloans.”
The name “Anasazi” has come to mean “ancient people,” although the word itself is Navajo, meaning “enemy ancestors.”
Without a written language to record day to day events, it has proved difficult to reconstruct an accurate picture of these early home builder’s lives. As you tour the ruins of the park many of the sites are described with multiple explanations.
Take the time to pull over at all the overlooks and trails of Chapin Mesa. Most sites are less than a few minutes walk and provide a rich learning experience for you and your family.
Many of the park’s ruins are located along side in the mesa cliffs. The dwellings were built within the alcoves of these cliffs for reasons including, protection from the elements, protection from enemies, and many times springs were located at the rear of the alcoves.
Agriculture was an important part of life for the Ancestral Puebloans. Many of the sites on the surface of the mesa reflect this fact. As the centuries passed, the building styles evolved from pith houses to the cliff houses of later. Guides are available at most of the roadside trails and provide great self-led tours.
Mesa Verde National Park: Life Earth Sky
Good informative text, superb photography
The photo-image quality in this book is outstanding, with full-page rich color plates of all the main places of interest at the Mesa Verde site (there’s a lot, and they are spread out over a wide area), plenty of well-drawn full-color maps of the area and of the distribution of Pueblo artefacts in the wider region, plus a few older monochrome images of the Wetherills and other archaeologists who contributed to early knowledge about this extraordinary location and helped bring it to wider public attention.
The park was founded on June 29, 1906 and contains over 52,000 acres total. Spruce Tree House and the museum are open all year round for your enjoyment. The Cliff Palace and Balcony House are closed from mid-October until mid-April. The Wetherill Mesa ruins are open from Memorial Day – Labor Day. The Far View Visitor Center is open in the summer from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. For more park information call (970) 529-4461.
There are several areas to visit in the park before you can say you’ve seen enough. Keep in mind that altitudes in the park range from 6,000 to 8500 feet. Trails may be uneven and strenuous.
Many ladders and steps may cause problems for people with heart or respiratory ailments. Check with a ranger if you are in doubt.
Four Corners Region
There are many other points of interest in this area, from archeological dig sights that you can actually visit, to ancient pueblo cliff dwellings, as well as many more. Navajo and Hopi tribes call this area their home today, but Native American history here goes back thousands of years, with several indigenous tribes coming here, and disappearing.
Some of the attractions include the following:
At 8571 feet this stop provides a spectacular view of the entire area including the Four Corners region. It is also home to a fire look out station (see further down.) This short walk from the roadway is easily traversed.
Far View Visitor Center
This is the main welcoming center of the park. On display are many artifacts and contemporary arts and crafts. Commercial tours are available from here and tickets for the Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House tours must be purchased here. In the past visitors were allowed to enter these areas at no additional charge. The small fees are necessary to keep these and other areas open due to the budget constraints of the National Park Service. Get your tickets before you drive out, or else you will regret it. Children should pickup the materials needed to become certified junior rangers before visiting the parks ruins.
Wetherill Mesa is open to the public in the summer from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM. The road is very steep and sharp curves abound. Be sure to visit Step House, Long House (ticket required), and Badger House Community (3/4 mile hike.)
It is perhaps the most popular due to Spruce Tree House, Cliff Palace (ticket required) and Balcony House (ticket required.) Many other ruins are visible from the Ruins Road. The road has many stops were you can visit lesser-known ruins (although none the less interesting.) Many have guide brochures for self-guided tours. These roads are open 8:00 AM to sunset. During the winter, areas are open according to the weather. Snowshoeing and Cross-country skiing is allowed on roadways but the dwellings are closed.
Mesa Verde National Park Songs
Mesa Verde National Park Activities
Activities in the park include hiking, bicycling and sightseeing. Along the Ruins Road you can tour the Mesa Top Ruins and you will be privy to 600 years of Ancestral Puebloan cultural development. Here is a kiva believed to be a gathering place for the family.
Be sure to pick up a guide at the numerous pickup/drop-off boxes. If you plan to keep the brochures, be sure to leave the requested donation to ensure its replacement. At the Far View Ruins you can visit the Far View House, Pine Shrine House, Far View Tower, Mummy Lake, Megalithic House and Coyote Village. Park Point affords what was called “one of the grandest and most extensive views in the country” by the 58th Congress.
A guide is available at Park Point as well as many other stops in the park. Cliff Palace is one of the main reasons people come to Mesa Verde National Park, but don’t let is be the only one, since you will cheat yourself out of all the other wonderful sites available to see.
Bicycles are permitted on the park roads and in the campgrounds only. You cannot ride on trails!
Pets must be on a leash or restrained at all times. They are permitted in campsites, on roads and picnic areas only. They are not permitted on trails, in the backcountry, or in any of the park’s buildings, even if you carry them. Do not leave pets unattended. You are responsible for anything your pet leaves behind and for its behavior.
Hiking is available throughout the park . Some of the parks trails include:
- Knife Edge Trail (1.5 miles) leaves from Morefield Campground
- Point Lookout Trail (2.3 miles) leaves from Morefield Campground
- Prater Ridge Trail (7 miles) leaves from Morefield Campground
- Petroglygh Point Trail (2.8 miles) leads into Spruce Canyon. (Register at ranger station first)
- Spruce Canyon Trail (2.1 miles) leads into Spruce Canyon. (Register at ranger station first)
Some of these hikes are more advanced than others. Check with a ranger first if you are in doubt. Please leave no trace behind. Please place all trash in its proper place and do not feed the wildlife. And respect all plant-life also.
Camping is available at Morefield Campground located 4 miles past the entrance to the park. The campground is open from early spring to late in the fall. (mid-April through mid-October) Call (970) 529-4474 for campground information. There are over 395 campsites with only 15 offering full hookups. These are all sold on a first-come first-served basis. Quiet hours are from 10 PM. to 6 AM. Pets must be on a leash and well controlled. Wildlife is frequently spotted in the campground, so remember that harassing and feeding wildlife is prohibited.
On our visit we saw wild turkeys and were awakened in the morning by deer grazing outside our tent. Firewood is available at the store located at the campground entrance, do not collect firewood. Fires are limited to provided campfire rings. On our visit all fires were prohibited due to drought conditions. Hot showers and a laundry are available at the concessionaire and are coin operated.
Far View Lodge offers a restaurant, nearby cafe, and lodging., It is closed in winter, so be sure to make reservations first by contacting the Mesa Verde Co., PO Box 227, Mancos, CO 81328, (303) 529-4421.
Mesa Verde National Park is located in Southwestern Colorado in plateau country. The entrance is midway between Cortez and Mancos on US 160. We suggest having the car filled up upon entering the park as many of the attractions are located far distances apart. From the entrance it is 15 miles to Far View Visitor Center and 21 miles to the park’s headquarters. Gasoline is available in the park if necessary. The roads in the park are steep, full of sharp turns and posted at reduced speeds.
Call for most recent prices!!! Admission to the park is $10.00 per vehicle for up to a seven day stay. Tickets are required for Balcony House, Long House and Cliff Palace tours ($8 per person per tour). Tickets can be purchased at the Visitor Center. Golden Age/Access/Eagle Passports are honored.
Mesa Verde National Park Coin
Commemorate your visit to Mesa Verde National Park with this die-struck medallion created by master artisans. Great as a gift, to celebrate a trip or to just hold as a lasting reminder of your experience in America’s great outdoors, this splash-minted National Park medallion will be a timeless keepsake that you will treasure forever.