Along with the Grand Canyon, Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park earns honorary Utah citizenship, joining Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands as cousins of the Colorado Plateau.
Mesa Verde is one of the smaller parks, focused on preserving and displaying an unmatched density of Native American archeology. Thousands of Ancestral Puebloan sites dot the forested plateau (Mesa Verde means “green table”) with 600 cliff dwellings forming dramatic focal points in natural scenery that was pretty impressive to begin with. Read more...
THINGS TO DO
Mesa Verde is considered the premier archeological site in the United States, with 4,000 points of interest for the part of you that wishes the Indiana Jones movies focused a little more on his fieldwork.
Cliff Palace is a stunning metropolis built in/under an overhanging cliff. Most of the park’s dwellings are small with just one or two rooms, but 100 Puebloans lived and worshipped in Cliff Palace’s 150 rooms and 23 kivas.
Balcony House has similar large-scale stone-mortar-beam construction. Hikes out of Morefield, Chapin Mesa and Wetherill Mesa Trailheads show off the canyon’s beauty as they carry you to more points of historical significance.
ANCIENT CULTURE ON DISPLAY
Mesa Verde is a World Cultural Heritage Site, sheltering major archaeological and cultural sites from the Puebloan era. The preservation of its ancient structures gives visitors a startling and intimate look into prehistoric life in the semiarid southwest.
Ancestral Puebloans lived in the area from approximately 600–1300 CE, graduating from nomadic hunting to smaller pueblos on the mesa top to elaborate stone villages in the sheltered alcoves of canyon walls. Buildings and artifacts tell the story of a lasting civilization who hunted, gathered, raised corn and beans, painted murals, made pottery and planned farming and religious ceremonies around astronomical observations.
The most famous structures in the park are the cliff dwellings, which represent the last 75 to 100 years of occupation at Mesa Verde. In the late 1200s, within the span of one or two generations, drought and subsequent warfare drove the Puebloans toward Arizona and New Mexico.
LOCATION & WHERE TO STAY
Mesa Verde is near Cortez, Colorado, about an hour from Monticello, Utah, to the northwest and 40 minutes from Durango, Colorado, to the east. It fits nicely into a tour of the Monument Valley–Four Corners area.
Mesa Verde Park is open year-round but some guides and services are limited in winter. Camping and hotels in or near the park is usually available, but book a little early for dates from late spring to fall.