National Parks

Mesa Verde National Park

Doe deer at the grassland at Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde or literally “Green Table” in Spanish is a national park located in Southwestern Colorado. This park offers an exceptional opportunity to see and experience a one-of-a-kind cultural and physical landscape. This national treasure includes the famous multi-story Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Square House and more than 4000 known archaeological sites dating back to 550 AD.

A great concentration of spectacular Ancestral Pueblo Indian dwellings was built on the 6th to 12th centuries. This can be found on the Mesa Verde plateau in south-west Colorado at an altitude of more than 2600 meters. Mesa Verde safeguards the cliff dwellings and mesa top sites of pit houses, masonry towers, pueblos, and farming structures of the Ancestral Pueblo peoples who dwelled here for more than 700 years. This national park gives us sight into the places and stories of America’s diverse culture and heritage.

Some of the most notable and preserved sites in the United States are the cliff dwellings. The Ancestral Pueblo peoples began building structures under the overhanging cliffs of Mesa Verde after living primarily on the mesa top for 600 long years. Their structures built of sandstone and mud mortar with sizes that range from one-room storage units to villages composed of over 150 rooms. Although there are questions that yet to be answered regarding the cliff dwellings, decades of excavation and analysis have shown us that Ancient Pueblans was undoubtedly skilled and artistic.

Other archaeological sites like pit-house settlements and mason-walled villages of different sizes and complexity are distributed over the mesas. There are also non-habitation sites, including farming terraces and check dams, reservoirs, ditches, field houses, shrines, and ceremonial features, and rock art. Mesa Verde is a significant and living link between the past and present ways of life of Puebloan People.

topview of the Cliff Palace

Mesa Verde National Park is authentic in its forms, designs, materials, and substance. In 1906, before the National Park itself, Mesa Verde National Park was established by an Act of Congress. The park was the first archaeological area in the world to be recognized and protected in this manner. Being owned and maintained by the federal government, Mesa Verde has the highest possible protection level. Park staff regularly consults from the representatives of the 26 culturally affiliated and traditionally associated Native American tribes. Any plans and initiatives on interpretive materials, research, and preservation of archaeological resources and proposed construction plans are discussed with them before execution.

The Mesa Verde National Park became UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, in recognition of its extraordinary archaeological relevance. To preserve this heritage site, there is an ongoing effort on condition assessments and architectural documentation. To limit the impacts to Mesa Verde, the carrying capacity and visitor impacts are carefully tracked according to policies in place.

To sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of this property over time, it also requires protecting the resources from erosion and other damage brought by wildland fires and other effects of climate change. It is also necessary to manage invasive plant species that harm or may cause harm to cultural resources, ensure that any developments adjacent to this property do not damage Mesa Verde’s value, authenticity, and integrity.

ACTIVITIES IN THE PARK

Entrance signage at Mesa Verde National Park

Touring Around Mesa Verde National Park

You can stay in the town of Cortez, just an hour away from Mesa National Park. Cortez offers excellent accommodations, dining and shopping choices, and 294-acre parks and recreation areas.

Before heading to Mesa Verde Park, stop by the Colorado Welcome Center on Main Street to learn tips and ideas for your adventure.

The Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center conducts orientation and hand maps and brochures for your reference and sells tour tickets. For self-guided tours, they allow only two cliff dwellings, so if you want to go inside the Cliff Palace, you must be early to secure a spot on the guided tour.

Proceed to the exhibits in Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and watch the film on Ancestral Puebloan culture. Without any tour-guide, you can simply explore Spruce Tree House or drive the 6-mile loop in the Mesa Top Loop Road, where you can see the excellent overview of the entire park.

Indulge your sight with the scenic drive on the Cliff Palace/Balcony House Loop Road on your way to Cliff Palace or Balcony House. If you bought tickets for Long House, take the Wetherill Mesa Drive to enjoy trails that lead to mesa-top ruins and amazing overlooks of cliff dwellings.

Exploring the Wildlife in the Park.

Mesa Verde offers visitors 8,500 acres of federally designated wilderness that support various animal species, including 74 mammal species, 200 bird species, 16 reptile species, five amphibian, six fish species, and more than 1,000 insect and invertebrate species.

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