Mesa Verde National Park

Located: Colorado  -  Established: June 20, 1906

The Park. A little over 800 years ago, the Native Americans who occupied the four corners region of the southwest began constructing the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde. 

The Ancestral Puebloans (as they are now called) lived in the cliff dwellings for less than 100 years and by 1300, the Ancient Ones had all but abandoned their Cliffside abodes. Speculation abounds regarding why these people packed up and left. Drought and depilated resources are thought to be contributing factors. 

 Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House

Nevertheless, when you visit Mesa Verde, you will be treated a number of well-preserved cliff dwellings rich with history. In 1900, Virginia McClurg and Lucy Peabody formed the Colorado Cliff Dwellings Association with its sole purpose to preserve and protect the area from treasure hunters. In 1901 the first of at least 5 bills were introduced to Congress to create Colorado Cliff Dwellings National Park. All of these bills failed to gather enough votes necessary to create the park. 

Finally, in 1906, Mesa Verde became the country’s first National Park to be set aside to “preserve the works of man” when president Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill. 

Those who visit this park will marvel at the quality and sophistication of construction that was put into the creation of over 600 cliff dwellings. 

Getting there. Mesa Verde is located in southwestern Colorado about 35 miles west of Durango, CO just off Hwy 160. 

When to go. The park is always open; however, tickets for ranger-led guided tours to some of the cliff dwellings must be purchased in person and the schedule will vary from season to season. 

 Trekking the ruins at Mesa Verde. Park visit  #11 .

Trekking the ruins at Mesa Verde. Park visit #11.

What to do.  The main event at Mesa Verde is to experience the incredible “works of man” that cling to the cliffs. Mesa Verde is the first park established to protect these dwellings. Take the Cliff Palace, Balcony House or Long House Tour and marvel at these dwelling so handsomely crafted out of sandstone, mortar and wooden beams. Spruce Tree House is the best preserved of all the cliff dwellings. Unfortunately, due to continued safety concerns due to falling rocks, Spruce Tree is currently closed to visitors.  Be sure to check the park website for updates.

If you’ve got a day or two, take a hike about the park. Hiking in Mesa Verde is allowed only on designated trails originating from three trailheads. 

From the Chapin Mesa Trailhead, the 3-mile round trip Petroglyph Loop Trail leads you to Pictograph Point - the largest group of petroglyphs in Mesa Verde. For a longer trek, take the 7.8-mile (round trip) Prater Ridge Trail that originates at the Morefield Trailhead. 

Where to stay. As for lodging, the Far View Lodge located at mile marker 15 on the main park road offers a panoramic view of three “four corners” states -  Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

The Morefield Campground, located four miles inside the park boundaries offers 267 developed campsites. Several of the park’s best hikes originate from this campground.

 Memorable moment: Being able to tour Spruce Tree House prior to its closure!

 Cliff Palace

Cliff Palace

Trivia: The subterranean kiva’s found in the park remained at 50 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. So for the Ancestral Puebloans, the kiva stayed cool in the summer, and only a small fire was needed to keep it warm in the winter.  

Banner: Local petroglyphs

Experience these Check List:

  • Stop by the park's Visitor and Research Center
  • Take a Guided Tour of the Cliff Dwellings
  • Hike the Petroglyph Loop Trail
  • Drive the Mesa Top and Cliff Palace Loop Roads