Tuesday, July 22, 2014

DESTINATION: Mesa Verde, Colorado

After resting for the night in Durango, Colorado, we headed west to Mesa Verde National Park.  Mesa Verde National Park is a U.S. National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Montezuma County, Colorado, United States. It is the largest archaeological preserve in the United States.  The park was created in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the world, or as he said, "preserve the works of man".   It is the only cultural National Park set aside by the National Park System.  It occupies 81.4 square miles and features numerous ruins of homes and villages built by the Ancient Pueblo peoples, sometimes called the Anasazi. There are over 4000 archaeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people at the site.

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park


Upon arrival at the park, we stopped at the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center to purchase tickets for a guided tour of Cliff Palace.  After purchasing our tickets we headed to the park's entrance where you pay admission to get into the park.  From the park entrance there is approximately 30-45 miles of winding road that lead to the cliff dwellings within the canyon walls.


Beautiful sculpture dedicated to the cliff
dwellers in front of the Mesa Verde
Visitor and Research Center


Mancos Valley Overlook

Along the way there are several "lookouts" and points of interest.  The main road leads you around the top and down into the canyons of Chapin Mesa.  The second road, which we didn't visit because of time, leads you around and down into canyons of Wetherill Mesa.


Montezuma Valley Overlook
Montezuma Valley Overlook
Montezuma Valley Overlook


The Far View Sites are the first ruins you come to at the top of Chapin Mesa.  Far View was one of the most densely populated parts of the mesa from A.D. 900 to about A.D. 1300.  Nearly 50 villages have been identified within a half square mile area, and were home to hundreds of people.  Today, several excavated and stabilized sites are linked by a trail system within a short walking distance. These surface sites include Far View House, Pipe Shrine House, Coyote Village, Far View Reservoir, Megalithic House, and Far View Tower.

Covered site at Far View
Far View Reservoir
Far View dwellings with several kivas

Pictograph at Far View
Kiva at Far View
Adobe dwellings at
Far View
After leaving the Far View Sites we headed to Spruce Tree House for a self guided tour.  The walk from the top of the visitor's center to the cliff dwellings is not long but is steep.  Spruce Tree House, the third largest cliff dwelling, was constructed between A.D. 1211 and 1278 by the ancestors of the Puebloan peoples of the Southwest. The dwelling contains about 130 rooms and 8 kivas (kee-vahs), or ceremonial chambers, built into a natural alcove measuring 216 feet (66 meters) at greatest width and 89 feet (27 meters) at its greatest depth. It is thought to have been home for about 60 to 80 people.

Spruce Tree House
Spruce Tree House from above
Spruce Tree House kiva with roof
After leaving Spruce Tree House it was time for our tour of the Cliff Palace.  Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde National Park. It has 150 rooms, plus an additional 75 open areas. Twenty-one of the rooms are kivas, and 25 to 30 rooms have residential features. The number of Ancestral Puebloans living in Cliff Palace at any one time was 100 to 120.

Cliff Palace from above
Cliff Palace rooms
Cliff Palace from exit


Very knowledgeable park ranger about to take us into Cliff Palace
Looking down into a kiva


You definitely need more than one day to visit all the sites at Mesa Verde National Park.  Above are the biggest sites we saw and visited.  There are several other sites along the cliff that you can view from overlooks.