Mesa Verde National Park   1 comment

Where Is It: The Park is 90 minutes west of Durango, CO, or about 4 hours northwest of Albuquerque, NM.

The Birth: The Park traces the history of “the Ancient People” from about 550 AD. It is estimated that the population at the site reached several thousand around the year 1200. Those inhabitants are now known as the Ancestral Puebloans.

President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill creating the Park in 1906.

It Happened Here: From

Most of the cliff dwellings were built from the late 1190’s to the late 1270’s. They range in size from one-room houses to villages of more than 200 rooms – Cliff Palace. Architecturally, there is no standard ground plan. The builders fit their structures to the available space. Most walls were single courses of stone, perhaps because the alcove roofs limited heights and also protected them from erosion by the weather. The masonry work varied in quality; rough construction can be found alongside walls with well-shaped stones. Many rooms were plastered on the inside and decorated with painted designs.

Kiva is a Hopi word for ceremonial room. The kiva at Mesa Verde were underground chambers that may be compared to churches of later times. Based upon modern Pueblo practices, Ancestral Puebloans may have used these rooms to conduct healing rites or to pray for rain, luck in hunting, or good crops. Kivas also serve as gathering places, and sometimes as a place to weave. A roof of beams and mud covered each kiva, supported by pilasters. Access was by ladder through a hole in the center of the roof. The small hole in the floor is a sipapu, the symbolic entrance to the underworld.

The Ancestral Puebloans lived in the cliff dwellings for less than 100 years. By about 1300 Mesa Verde was deserted. There are several theories about the reason for their migration. We know that the last quarter of the century was a time of drought and crop failures, but these people had survived earlier droughts. Maybe after hundreds of years of intense use, the land and its resources – the soil, forests, and animals – were depleted. Perhaps there were social and political problems, and the people looked for new opportunities elsewhere.

Size: 52,485 acres

# Visitors: 572,329 in 2011.

Plants: From the Park’s website:

Mesa Verde National Park supports four major plant communities, all of which fall within the semi-arid Transitional and Upper Sonoran Live Zones.

  • The shrub-steppe community in the lower elevations is dominated by big sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and several herbaceous species. It flourishes in dry canyon bottoms, in burned areas, and in the transition zone between the mountain shrub community and the pinyon-juniper woodlands.
  • The pinyon-juniper woodland is dominated by Utah juniper and Colorado pinyon pine. This community is also known as the “pygmy forest,” as both of these tree species rarely exceed 30 feet in height.
  • The mountain shrub community stretches across the park from east to west, in a broad swath which extends several miles south from the north rim of the cuesta, at elevations above 7500 feet. Typical plant species here include Gambel oak, Utah serviceberry, mountain mahogany, cliff fendlerbush, and various bunch grasses and flowering perennials.
  • The Gambel oak-Douglas-fir woodland is found at higher elevations along the north rim and in sheltered areas in some canyons. A few relic stands of quaking aspen occur at higher elevations.

Animals: From the Park’s website:

The park has been named a Colorado Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Audubon Society, and has two Protected Activity Centers and three breeding Core Areas for the threatened Mexican Spotted Owl totaling 5,312 acres.

The park’s geographic isolation and its location in a geographic transition zone, help provide niches for this wide variety of animal species. Currently, about 74 species of mammals, 200 species of birds, 16 species of reptiles, five species of amphibians, six species of fishes (four of which are native), and over 1,000 species of insects and other invertebrates spend at least part of the year within park boundaries.

Choices: From

Tour tickets are required for ranger-guided tours of Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or Long House. Tour tickets may be purchased at the Colorado Welcome Center in Cortez, or at the Visitor and Research Center located at the park entrance. Be sure to stop at the Visitor Center before traveling into the Park. It is 21 miles from the park entrance to the sites and museum on Chapin Mesa. Driving time into the park depends on traffic and weather conditions.

Fees: Vehicles are $10 for a 7-day pass in the off season, and $15 between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Staying There: Morefield Campground has 267 spaces, and rarely fills. The campground is closed in the winter, but primitive camping is still available.

Contact Info:

PO Box 8
Mesa Verde, CO 81330-0008
Headquarters – 970-529-4465
Visitor Information – 970-529-4465

Don’t Miss This: This Park is a part of the “Grand Circle,” which is a vacation destination for many. Take a couple of weeks, and you can visit all five Utah National Parks, in addition to the nearby Grand Canyon National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Monument Valley and Lake Powell.


National Park Service: Mesa Verde National Park

Jason’s Travels: Exploring Mesa Verde National Park

Posted January 6, 2014 by henrymowry in National Parks

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One response to “Mesa Verde National Park

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  1. One of our favorite parks, Mesa Verde still has that sense of quiet and awe that comes with looking at dwellings and wondering what the people were like who inhabited them. Our tour guide was marvelous for Cliff House, so if anyone gets the choice of an unescorted or escorted trip, go with the guided tour!!! Thanks for sharing these marvelous pictures.

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