Mesa Verde National Park
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Mesa Verde National Park

This is the biggest Native American archeological site

Mesa Verde National Park contains the largest and most important archeological preserve of Native American culture in the USA. The Anasazi or "ancient ones" populated this area from 500 AD to 1300 AD. They originally occupied the tops of the mesas, which provided some natural protection from their enemies. As their culture developed, they learned to build elaborate fortified communal dwellings on sheltered niches in the cliffs. The ruins of many such ancient cliff-side cities are preserved at Mesa Verde National Park.

Square Tower House © Ben FrantzDale / GNUFDL
The Square Tower House is the highest Native American dwelling at Mesa Verde National Park.

These ancient cities were abandoned around 1300 AD when a prolonged drought devastated the area. It is believed that the Pueblo and Hopi tribes presently living in Arizona and New Mexico are descendants of the Anasazi.

Mesa Verde is in southwestern Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park is located in the southwestern corner of Colorado near the borders with Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. The park is 10 miles east of Cortez and 30 miles west of Durango. Access to the park requires a steep climb from the highway (US 160) up to the top of the mesa. Admission to the park is $10 or $15 per vehicle and $5 or $8 per individual, depending on the season. Caravans (trailers) and other towed vehicles are not permitted past the Morefield campground but there is adequate parking near the park entrance.

The Park gets crowded in the Summer

This is a very popular Park and it can become crowded during the summer months. When weather permits, you can drive along scenic roads that overlook some of the cliff dwellings and pass by mesa-top sites. You can also hike local trails to view the cliff dwellings and mesa top sites. If you want to enter the dwellings, you must take one of the ranger-guided tours.

House of Many Windows © Axcordion / Creative Commons ShareAlike
The House of Many Windows can be seen from the Mesa Top Loop Road.

To see it best requires guided tours

Tickets for ranger guided tours through some of the cliff dwellings such as Balcony House, Cliff Palace and Long House can be purchased at the visitor's center. Open daily 9AM to 5PM mid-May through Mid-October. The cost is modest ($3.00) but waits can be long so arrive early in the morning. Commercial tours can be booked at Far View Lodge with less waiting but more expense. Many tours require you to climb ladders and crawl through tunnels. Dress appropriately!

Lodging is available nearby

Lodging is available at Far View Lodge in the park, but it must be reserved many months in advance. In nearby Cortez, there is a wide variety of lodging. Morefield campground in the park is open mid-May through mid-October. It has 450 sites and is seldom completely full. There are also commercial campgrounds nearby.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © J. Paul Meurant
Photo Description: Cliff Palace, an ancient Native American dwelling, in Mesa Verde National Park.