Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

The Magic of Mesa Verde

November 21, 2011, 12:16 pm

Even today in this modern age of super highways, wi-fi and fast food joints, it remains hidden. Travel past miles and miles of open, untouched desert that is seemingly endless. Turn right, left, then left again and the haunting landscape is eerily the same in every direction. A light, sandy dust that barely passes for soil sustains little vegetation.

When you reach the Mesa Verde National Park entrance and snap your traditional photo by the sign, be prepared for another hour drive into the actual location of the dwellings. Winding roads lead in to the park and then, suddenly, as if a mirage, cliff dwellings appear out of nowhere. The towering structures sit down in the canyon, creating a strategically safe location.

For a guided tour, drop by the Far View Visitor Center to purchase tickets. For more information on a specific tour, click here. Select tours are only given during certain seasons, so be sure to check while planning your trip.

Once you’ve picked up your tickets, let the fun begin. Without a map, you’d never know where in the desert the cliff dwellings are stashed. The location is genius, and the structures equally stunning. Take a tour to the Cliff Palace and Balcony House, the park’s centerpieces. While inside the remains, a sense of community emanates through the once forgotten walls. Operating as a unit, the Ancestral Puebolans inhabited and survived in the area from 500 to 1300 A.D.

In its entirety, the Cliff Palace is comprised of 150 rooms, and the people who called this place home only reached a population of 120 at any given time. The words cliff dwellings do the site an injustice. Dwelling seems too impersonal for the magnificently hand-crafted homes. So many questions emerge while your standing at the site. How did they pick this location? Where did they go?

Although your tour guide will give you context, don't miss the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and its treasures. The museum explains how archaeologists believe Ancestral Puebloan life. View hundreds of artifacts recovered from over 600 sites in the park. Although there are multiple sites you can tour, there are over 4,000 sites in the entire park. From pueblos to pithouses, archaeologists are kept busy.

Certain dwellings only offer visitation through ranger tours while other offer only self-guided tours. The Spruce Tree House is an exception and offers both. Depending on the season, you may not be able to gain entrance to areas. For a more specific schedule of which dwellings are open to visitors, visit http://www.nps.gov/meve/planyourvisit/visitcliffdwelling.htm

Photo by NPS