Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is one of the best known archaeological sites in the world. The park was established in 1906, primarily to preserve the spectacular cliff dwelling ruins of the long-departed Anasazi civilization. Mesa Verde's importance to the international community was firmly established when the park was selected in 1978 by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
Besides the park's national and international archaeological fame, it also contains some of the most spectacular natural and scenic vistas in the Southwest. The panoramic views from the entrance road range from 14,000-foot snowcapped mountains, to distant views of the Colorado Plateau and high desert to the south and west.
For over a century, archaeologists and other visitors have been intrigued with the well preserved cliff dwellings nestled high in the canyon's cliffs. It seems that almost everyone who comes to Mesa Verde shares a common desire to learn more about our collective human past. When visitors look down on the ruins in the park, many wonder what life was like for earlier people who chose this place as their home.
The summer season lasts from early June until the Labor Day weekend. During these busy months, the majority of the park's facilities and attractions are open. The park encourages all visitors to stop first at the Far View Visitor Center for park information. It is located 15 miles into the park, and sits at a superb vantage point. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and features exhibits that focus on the contemporary American Indian cultures in the Four Corners area. You'll also find books and postcards at the bookstore.
Far View Ruins is located one mile south of the visitor center. This was a densely populated area during the 400 years that the Anasazi lived on the mesa. A half-mile trail loops through pinyon and sage to Far View village, Far View Tower, Mummy Lake, and the remains of a several-room village called Megalithic House.
Chapin Mesa is the best-known portion of the park and contains the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum, which features lifelike dioramas, artifacts, and other exhibits that focus on the culture and daily life of these people.
Visitors can also see numerous archaeological sites, including Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House, and Balcony House. The park roadways are well designed and allow people, even those who choose not to walk into the canyons, the opportunity to see the ruins from canyon rim overlooks.
Wetherill Mesa is lesser known by the general public, but contains ruins similar to those found on Chapin Mesa. For example, Long House is the second largest cliff dwelling in the park, and sits in a spectacular alcove. Other sites include Step House and the Badger House community. The roadway leading to Wetherhill Mesa provides excellent vistas into the nearby Montezuma Valley, the Sleeping Ute Mountain, and eastern Utah. The Park Service offers a variety of excellent tour options. Most of the visitors choose the self-guiding approach, and a series of trail guides are available.
Due to the fragile nature of the cultural resources, all hiking is restricted to designated trails. A limited number of short hiking trails (one to seven miles in length) are located near the Museum and the Morefield campground. Morefield is the only area in the park where camping is permitted, but the number of sites (over 400), and variety of terrain should accommodate most visitors. Wildlife viewing is one true benefit to staying in the park, as campsites are regularly visited by wild turkeys, deer, skunk, raccoons, and a variety of other birds and mammals. All the park roads are open to biking, and there are excellent off-road opportunities in the nearby Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation.
Fall, Winter, and Spring Operations
Due to the unpredictability of the fall, winter, and spring seasons, a schedule of tours and open sites is not possible. However, the Archaeological Museum and the Spruce Tree House ruin remain open all year. Off-season travelers should call first for the latest schedule and weather conditions. Cross-Country Skiing is an enjoyable way to view the park when there is snow on the ground. The Ruin Road on Chapin Mesa is a popular six-mile loop.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication