Mesa Verde National Park Colorado, situated in the southwest region of North America, is an archaeological masterpiece, and the abode of mystifying beauty and history.
Are you someone amazed by the mysteries of a historical masterpiece? Do you wonder what secrets and adventures could it reveal? Have you ever thought about what beautiful history this famous national park of America holds? Unsurprisingly, every gust of wind in Colorado in North America breathes history. And if that excites you, you’re at the right place.
History comes to life with the beauty and mystery of its Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, an old archaeological mystery site associated with the Pueblo people, and a UNESCO (Cultural) World Heritage Site designated in 1978. Its mysteries unfold a perfect opportunity for exploration and adventure. Here is everything you need to know about Mesa Verde National Park Colorado.
It is amazing to know that among the 63 National Parks of the United States of America, Mesa Verde (“green table mountain”) National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the country. Besides this, it is home to North America’s most significant cliff dwellings and preserved archaeological sites.
1. Location of Mesa Verde National Park Colorado
Did you know that the ancient Mesa Verde region covered an area that extended from Southeastern Utah to Northwestern New Mexico? Other than this, it was inhabited by the ancient Paleo Indians. However, present-day Verde National Park, with its awe-inspiring cliff dwellings and Balcony house, is situated in Southwest Colorado, which is known as the famous four corners region of North America, the world’s third largest continent.
IUCN category II (National Park), Mesa Verde National Park is situated in the Montezuma Country, Colorado, United States, North America.
Cortez is the city closest to the Verde National Park which protects the ancient archaeological findings of the Pueblo people. The archaeological sites of this National Park Colorado are historically significant and many of the Mesa Verde visitors even consider the park as a sacred place.
Representing the onset of the Rocky Mountains, this National Park in Colorado comes as a transition from deserted areas to hills. If you have ever visited or do visit in the future, you will agree, its magnificent narrow canyon and gorges are sites to admire.
2. Mesa Verde National Park Colorado – Area & Establishment
Covering an area of 52, 285 acres, which equals 212.40 km2, the Mesa Verde National Park was established by the American Congress and by President of America Theodore Roosevelt on 29 June 1906.
Near the American Southwest or the popular Four Corners region of the USA, filled with exceptional archaeological relevance, lies the perched high mesa tops of the ancestral Pueblo people. Home to the largest cliff dwelling, it covers an area large enough to encompass more than 5000 sites and 600 ruins of cliff dwellings. Amazing, right?
3. History—ancient culture, and people
Home to North America’s most significant cliff dwelling site known as the Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park Colorado is considered to be originally inhabited by the Pueblos. And that is not the only. Historians also term a group of people who inhabited the region “Paleo- Indians.” As early as the mid-sixth century BC, Mesa was inhabited seasonally by the Paleo Indians, a group of nomads. It was then recognized as the Foothills Mountain Complex.
By archaeological shreds of evidence, it has been found that the Pueblo people were under the influence of their surrounding areas which included the Great Basin, the Rio Grande Valley, and the well-known San Juan Basin. Shreds of evidence of the archaic people having lived in the Mesa region have also been found and historians believe that they were of great influence to the Pueblos too.
It is notable as the Ancestral Puebloans of Mesa Verde National Park had developed from the cultural notations of the Basketmaker culture, which is believed to have been established by the Archaic people around 1000 BC. “Basketmaker” because they used to make a lot of baskets.
As for their living, the Paleo Indians living in the ancient Mesa Verde National Park Colorado region were nomadic people whose lives depended on hunting, gathering, and subsistence agriculture.
Similar to how we’ll know most nomadic people are, they concentrated more on hunting animals and gathering fruits and other eatable items. They relied less on agriculture and grew only as much was required to sustain a living. Major crops grown by the ancestral Puebloan people included beans, corn, and squash.
4. Top five things to do in Mesa Verde National Park Colorado
The Mesa Verde National Park is a frequently visited archaeological tourist site throughout the year. But the fall-off season offers a quieter and more serene opportunity to experience the beautiful cliffs and landscape, and experience the magnificent earliest mesa top sites.
Wondering what the national park has in store for you? A tour of up to two weeks will enable you to explore almost all the simple trails, comfortable coaches, its narrow canyon, cliff dwellings, ruins on elevation, trails, and much more.
Mesa Verde Visitor And Research Center
Knowledge is power. This is why the first step of a Mesa Verde visitor shall be to go to the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Centre at the park entrance of the national park. Because it is here you will get the information, suggestions, and services about the working trails and open sites to visit.
Spruce Tree House Overlook
Visiting the Spruce Tree house near the Museum will add to your amazing experience of the Mesa Verde National Park.
Cliff Palace and other cliff dwellings
Besides the numerous cliff dwellings formed by the ancestral Puebloans of this national park in Colorado, the “Cliff Palace” is an awe-inspiring cliff dwelling that is a must-visit.
Petroglyph Point Trail and camping at Morefield Campground
To experience the natural beauty of the Spruce Canyon and ancestral Puebloan rock art, you must hike the rugged elevation of the Petroglyph Point trail, a 2.4-mile hiking trail, is a must. Camping at Morefield Campground is cheese on top.
Dark night sky experience
A lot of people leave the Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado walking its short walks, simple trails, and largest cliff dwelling, a few await to experience the exhilarating view of the night sky visible from the exceptional Mesa Verde National Park.
With elevations over 7000 feet, this Park is a remarkable tourist trip. Even a one-day tour of this place ensures a thrilling experience for a lifetime.
5. Ancient cultures of Mesa Verde National Park Colorado
Interestingly enough, the earliest residents of the ancient Mesa Verde National Park region were Paleo Indians who later on established the ancient Clovis Culture and the Folsom tradition. They started inhabiting this region around 9500 BC but it was majorly in 7500 BC that their population grew around the center of the Mesa Verde region. It was because the environment of the ancient park grew to be warm and dry. It helped the growth of the pine forests of this region and the people who lived there.
Historians are divided in their views regarding the Archaic people of the ancient Mesa Verde region. Some believe that they were the remnants of the Paleo Indians while others believe they were people influenced by surrounding regions such as the Great Basin, the popular San Juan Basin, and the park’s Rio Grande Valley.
The Archaic culture of the Mesa Verde region is supposed to have begun in 6000 BC. Most probably, the archaic people were locals who were also under the influence of surrounding areas and their culture and people by various methods of contact such as trade and interlinking of marriage with immigrants of these regions into the Mesa Verde region. Although the archaic people were nomadic just like the Paleo Indians, they used to grow wider varieties of plants than the earlier Paleo Indians did.
The Archaic people lived in houses made of mud and wood in the outskirts area of Mesa Verde regions, the canyons, the mesa tops, the mesa hills, and the rock shelters where the varied and magnificent rock art was created by them. Its ruins are still a picturesque site. The Archaic people also built perishable goods that included baskets, sandals, mats, and varied twig figurines which resembled sheep and deer. They also made necklaces and other ornaments from the sea shells of the large Pacific Coast that reached the Mesa Verde region through Arizona.
With the growth of extensive agriculture in the Mesa Verde region around 1000 BC, the Archaic era came to an end. With the enriching introduction of corn in the Mesa Verde Park region at around the same time, a new culture came to life which later came to be known as the most popular Basketmaker culture of the ancient Mesa Verde region.
The Basketmaker culture is the transition of the Archaic people into those ancient people who were both skilled farmers, weavers of fine baskets, and used atlatl (a spear thrower or leverage). As evident from the name of the Basketmaker culture, the people of this culture used to weave baskets which were used because of the lack of earthen pottery. They also made various household items such as sandals, robes, mats, blankets, and pouches to store things.
Historians divide the Basketmaker Culture into Basketmaker II and Basketmaker III cultures depending upon their primary behaviors, actions, and livelihood tactics. There used to be villages in the Basketmaker Culture but the entire Mesa Verde region only amounted to a total of 1000 to 1500 people.
Ancestral Pueblo people’s culture
Similar to the Basketmaker culture, the ancient Puebloan culture of the Mesa Verde region is divided into three parts by historians for ease of study. These are Pueblo I, Pueblo II and Pueblo III. The beginning of the Puebloan culture s marked by 750 BC with the Pueblo I era.
It was the Pueblo people who shifted their residents from the pithouses to above-ground dwellings and started using these pithouses for ceremonies and events. During the winter months, the Pueblos encompassed large families. With the growth of population in the Mesa Verde region, the Puebloans shifted to extensive growth of corn other than hunting and gathering food items.
It is the Puebloans who are considered the ‘Mesa Verdeans‘ as they sustained their own unique identity while allowing the merging of regional notions and ancient traditions. The Pueblos were highly influenced by the Chacoans that inspired the Chaco-style masonry great houses of the ancient Mesa Verde region around 1075 BC. Later, the influence shifted from Chaco to Aztec in New Mexico in the southern Mesa Verde region around 1100 BC.
The Chacoan system of the Chaco calyon brought numerous goods to Mesa Verde such as pottery, turquoise, and shells but with the collapse of the Chaco system, the imported goods were destroyed too. Most people lived in the plains which were located in the west Mesa Verde region. A severe drought from 1276 to 1299 brought an end to the seven hundred years of living human population in the Mesa Verde region.
It was during the Pueblo III era that the most magnificent sites of history have been built. These structures built by the Puebloans, which also include the largest cliff dwelling in North America, the “Cliff Palace”, are the world’s greatest archaeological treasures.
Social and environmental instability and a series of severe and prolonged droughts are realized as the cause of the ruins of the ancient culture established by the ancestral Puebloan people.
It is this that brought an end to their lives in Mesa Verde and the ancestral Puebloan people moved across to locations south of the present-day park in Arizona and Mexico. The areas to which the ancient Mesa people moved also include the Albuquerque Basin, the Pajarito Plateau, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and the Rio Chama.
The first Pueblos which were followed by the numerous cliff dwellings are believed to have been built by these nomadic residents of Mesa Verde around 650. It is for these cliff dwellings and the adventurous Cliff Place built in the known Four Corners region of North America that the Mesa Verde National Park is best known for and frequently visited. But it is not only the cliff dwellings of the park which are spectacular, Mesa Verde holds so much more to explore.
6. Top six places to explore in Mesa Verde National Park Colorado
Mesa Verde is a well-protected and preserved archaeological site that was added to the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites as a cultural archaeological site whose scenic views remain relishing to its visitors.
Home to a longer-serving ancient civilization whose structures and ruins stand out as an archaeological beauty, Mesa Verde in the spectacular Four Corners region of North America was restored and established as a National Park in 1906. Since then, it has been home to several visitors from all corners of the world and a major tourist site that must not be missed.
With the best self-guided cliff dwelling step houses, hiking and camping sites, sample itineraries, and metate room restaurants, Mesa Verde National Park is home to exhilarating adventures, picturesque views, and unspoiled beauty that offers an unforgettable experience for a lifetime. Here are the top six sites of the Mesa Verde National Park which are a must to explore.
Strange as it seems, even in ruins could lie mindboggling beauty. The ruins and remains of the Cliff Palace built by the ancestral Puebloan people is a proof of it. Among the numerous cliff dwellings, the Cliff Palace is the most popular cliff dwelling site of the Mesa Verde National Park.
It is located in the center above the largest alcove of the Great Mesa top. With its face in the south and southwestern direction, the Cliff Palace is made in such a way that the rays of the sun create more warmth during the winter season.
The cliff palace is made up of sandstone, wood, and mortar. It has around 150 rooms, many of which are brightly painted. Besides the rooms, the Cliff Palace has 23 kivas and it is capable of housing around 125 people.
However, about sixty pueblos nearby are a representation of a larger community that included more than 600 people. Among all the archaeological sites of the Mesa Verde National Park Colorado, the adventurous Cliff Palace is a must-visit for a Mesa Verde visitor.
The Balcony House is considered to be built not much before the Mesa Verde people migrated out of the region. It is situated on a ledge with a considerable height that faces east. Built like a balcony, this notable piece of art requires its visitors to crawl a small 12-foot tunnel and climb a ladder of thirty-two feet to see and visit.
It has a number of toe-holds as an exit. Do you wonder why it is so? It is because the Balcony House is cleverly built in such a way that it was easy for the Mesa Verdeans to defend themselves.
As back as 1910, excavated officially by Jesse L. Nusbaum, the first superintendent of the Mesa Verde National Park and the first National Park Service Archaeologist, the Balcony House can not be toured on one’s own. It demands a proper guided tour by a ranger to visit.
The second largest Mesa Verdean village, Long House was home to around 150 people who resided there. Built around 1200 BC, the Long House is mounted on the Wetherill Mesa top. The excavation of the Long House, which lasted for about three years from 1959 to 1961, was a Wetherill Mesa Archaeological Project’s part.
The Long House has around hundred and fifty rooms, a tower, and one kiva, and it also contains a plaza in the center. Two overhead ledges were constructed in the house to store grains, one of which has holes in its walls to create a space to look over the villages from above.
Unlike common cliff dwellings of the Mesa Verde National Park, the Long House is not clustered with rooms. Built with stones that were used without proper shaping, fitting, and stability, it is one of those archaeological sites which are worth admiration.
Of the many preserved stone dwellings of the Mesa Verde National Park Colorado, the Mug House is an eroded dwelling on the Wetherill Mesa and it contains a reservoir, one big kiva, and rooms that number around 94.
The house is one of the largest complexes of the Mesa Verde National Park. Interestingly enough, the Mug House is named after the three mugs tied together with yucca rope inside one of its rooms.
Spruce Tree House
The preserved and protected remains of the cliffs, canyons, and stone dwellings of the Mesa Verde National Park provide an explorable landscape. One of these is the Spruce Tress House. It is third on the list of the largest villages of Mesa Verde park with about hundred and thirty rooms and 8 kivas. And it was large enough to encompass about 80 people.
Known via history, the Spruce Tree House was constructed in the mid-thirteenth century and it is located in a protected location, within approx a hundred feet of a spring. The trail to it begins at the park entrance of the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum.
Square Tower House
The Square Tower House is the tallest structure in the Mesa Verde National Park. It is one among the many stops of the driving tour of Mesa Top Loop Road and simple trails. It has original plaster and paints and offers the spectacular look of plenty of rock art. Various ranger-guided tour of the tower house allows a Mesa Verde visitor to explore the impressive cliff dwellings of the Mesa Verde National Park.
Despite being in ruins, those are some really cool sites, no? But we must explore the more adventurous part of the Verde National Park now.
7. Best Mesa Verde National Park Trails
When it comes to making an adventurous hike alone or planning a family trip, trails are always fun. As a Mese Verde visitor, these trails of the Mesa Verde National Park are the best when it comes to biking, hiking, birding, or just walking.
Point Lookout Trail
Offering scenic views of the Mancos and Montezuma Valleys, the Point Lookout Trail is a 2.2-mile round hiking trip.
Prater Ridge Trail
One of the longer trails of Mesa Verde National Park, it is famous for the scenic landscape and beautiful views which can be seen from the ridge. Hikers ascend the 7.8-mile ridge to complete the loop.
Petroglyph Point Trail
Providing a beautiful view of the Spruce Canyon and Navajo Canyon, this 2.4-mile roundtrip trail is narrow and jagged with steep drop-offs into the canyons below.
Knife Edge Trail
This 2-mile trail of the Mesa Verde National Park provides views of the Montezuma valley.
Built over 700 years by the ancestral Puebloans, the Mesa Verde National Park protects the historical, archaeological, and cultural heritage of the Pueblo people while allowing visitors a thrilling experience of the shreds of the past and its beautiful ruins and remains, which includes the Chapin mesa, earliest mesa top sites, awe-inspiring cliff dwelling, the adventurous Cliff Palace, cliff short walks, hiking trails and much more.
The Mesa Verde National Park Colorado is the richest archeological preserve in North America built over a considerable amount of time by the Puebloans on the mesas and its numerous cliffs. It is home to scenic landscape, admirable canyon walls, spectacular mesa elevation tops, Morefield campground, and thousands of sites for you to explore and travel.