Land of the Cliff Dwellers – Mesa Verde National Park, CO
I originally thought about calling this post “1000 pictures of awe-inspiring and absolutely mind-blowing Ancient Puebloan dwellings”, but figured both the title and the number of shots might be somewhat, shall we say, too much? The truth is 1000 pictures probably wouldn’t do it justice. Mesa Verde is enormous and contains so much well-preserved history it’s not hard to understand why it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But let me go back and start from the beginning. We were looking for something quiet and unusual to do on the big holiday week-end. Mesa Verde looked interesting and we decided to pick an RV park just by the entrance to explore the area. We definitely made the right choice!
Mesa Verde occupies 52,000 acres (~210 km2) of rugged high-country mesa marked by dramatic canyons, cliffs, ridges and caves. It’s a slow and winding 20-mile drive from the park entrance to the cliff dwellings, and this time of year daytime temperatures heat rapidly so it’s worth being close to get the most of it.
And well worth it, it certainly is! The unique geology of Mesa Verde (the “green table”) attracted the first settlers, known as Basketmakers over 1,400 years ago. Fertile farming on the mesa-tops allowed the population to prosper and around A.D. 550 they started to build pithouses from poles and mud. By 1000 the population had mastered stone masonry which sparked the development of skillful and extensive sandstone dwellings in the protective recesses of the cliffs. Between 1100-1270 (Classic Pueblo Period) these cliff dwellings grew and prospered with the population reaching several thousand. Then, almost as suddenly the population left and by 1300 only the ghosts of the structures were left to tell their stories.
There are ~600 of these ghost cliff dwellings remaining at Mesa Verde within more than 4000 archeological sites. The dwellings are both extensive and superbly preserved with sites such as Cliff Palace (the largest known on the North American Continent), Spruce Tree House (one of the best preserved, with an a Kiva you can crawl into…cool!), Balcony House (the most adventurous visit) and many more. There are mixes of tours and self-guided trails, a museum, bookstore, cafe, lodge, evening programs and drives that take you through all ~750 years and 4 phases of the Ancient Puebloans in the area.
Phew! It’s enough to make your head spin.
Mesa Verde a true gem and a “must visit” for anyone passing through Southwestern Colorado. My advise is take a few days for the stay with a couple of hikes and at least one of the tours. For archeology nuts go full-out and do the whole thing. Just be sure to give yourself several cameras and a week or three to take it all in…this is mind-blowing stuff, after all…
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
I cannot believe how well preserved the ruins are. I already had Mesa Verde on my list of must see, but this definitely moves it to near the top of the list.
We were blown away by the quality of the ruins here.
I have to admit this has become on of our favorite pueblo sites on the trip so far.
Really spectacular! Nina
Mesa Verde National Park is one of my most favorite parks of all – glad you enjoyed it…
Soooo with you! I’m very happy we made the stop. Nina
Kevin and Sheryl says
We were amazed by the Gila Cliff Dwellings here in NM, it would be great to those in CO. I’ll putem on the Bucket List.
DO put it on the bucket list. This entire southwest CO area
is actually an archeologists dream. Lots of ruins and history
here even outside Mesa Verde & Chimney Rock.
The “Trail of the Ancients” compiles the
most interesting stops along the way.
Awesome pictures. I for one would look at your 1,000! We were here years ago and loved it. We did take a tour first, then explored on our own. We would have never knew a tenth of the info if we didn’t take a tour. So glad you made a great choice for this hectic weekend.
Marsha, I totally agree on the tour. It was really worth it to go
and I’m glad we had the extra time to take one.
Christy @ Technosyncratic says
Sooo jealous you two got to explore the Cliff Palace! It was closed while we were there, so we only got to see it from afar via the overlook. Ah well, seeing it through your photos is almost as good. 🙂
Yeah it’s a bummer you guys didn’t get to go inside.
You still got some great pics, of course! You’ll have
to come back to do the inner tours. They’re well worth it!
We were there in late March on our way home to Montana. We were too early in the season for any tours and could only view Cliff Palace from a distance. Mesa Verde will always be one of those places we remember with awe.
I guess you just gotta come back 🙂
It’s definitely a spot I will remember w/ awe!
Jerry and Suzy LeRoy says
Oh my! What a treasure. We were there ever so long ago — BR (Before Retirement), actually. Gotta go again. Thanks for the delightful tour.
It is indeed a treasure. This may go down as one of my favorite
historic parks in the SW. Nina
We thought this place was pretty amazing when we stayed here a few years ago. Glad you made the stop.
So happy we made the stop too! Nina