Exploring the Top Attractions of Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde ("Green Table") is a forest covered mesa in the extreme southwest of Colorado which reaches a height of 8,573 ft, rising abruptly to 2,000 ft above the semi-desert foreland of the Rockies. The main attractions in the park are the dramatic cliffside Indian ruins.
Some 2000 years ago the river valleys in this region were occupied by nomadic Indians who later took to a settled life. In the sixth century, for reasons that are not understood, they moved back to the densely forested plateau and its gorges, where they found fertile soils and a good water supply. The well preserved remains at Mesa Verde consist of rock habitations of the Anasazi Indians. These include pit houses on the plateau and cliff dwellings on the sides of the canyons, multi-story houses of adobe or stone built round a central square (pueblos) and cult sites (kivas).
Also found at the site were large quantities of implements and craft objects dating from the heyday of the settlements between the 11th and 13th centuries. The site was abandoned in the 14th century.
There are an estimated 4,000 protected archeological sites in the National Park. Admission to the park is restricted and strictly controlled, and some areas can be visited only in the company of a park ranger. During the winter months access may be restricted due to snow and winter conditions.
Mesa Verde National Park Highlights
A road leads from the Visitor Center to Chapin Mesa, passing the Far View Ruins and Cedar Tree Tower. The road goes on for 25 miles until it reaches the Park Headquarters Area.
The Chapin Mesa Museum is the starting-point of Ruins Road Drive, which takes in the main features of the Mesa Verde in two long loops, with a total length of 12 miles.
Ruins Road East
On the eastern loop of the road are the Cliff Palace and the Balcony House.
The 299-room Cliff Palace, in a large cave on the east side of Cliff Canyon, is the largest cave settlement in the park and the first to be discovered in 1888. It can only be visited on a guided tour; tickets must be purchased in advance from the Far View Visitor Center.
The Balcony House is built into a wide, low recess on the wall of Soda Canyon.
It can only be visited on a strenuous guided tour; tickets must be purchased in advance from the Far View Visitor Center.
Soda Canyon Overlook Trail
There is an overlook of Soda Canyon accessible from the eastern loop of Ruins Road in Mesa Verde National Park.
Ruins Road West
The high spots in the western part of the park are the Square Tower House, the Sun Point Pueblo, and the unfinished Sun Temple.
Sun Point Pueblo
The Sun Point Pueblo has the remains of a village which was pulled down by its inhabitants in the 13th century to provide material for new dwellings in a cave in nearby Cliff Canyon.
Square Tower House
The Square Tower House is a four-story structure built against the rock wall of the Navajo Canyon.
Navajo Canyon Overlook
On the western loop of Ruins Road is a pulloff for an overlook of Navajo Canyon.
The unfinished Sun Temple is a large cult building on a D-shaped plan.
Park Headquarters Area
A loop road branching off of the road to Chapin Mesa leads to the Park Headquarters Area, with the Chapin Mesa Museum and the Spruce Tree House, as well as the park headquarters, a library and ranger's office.
Petroglyph Point Hike
A permit must be obtained from the National Park administration for hiking on the Spruce Canyon Trail and the Petroglyph Point Trail, in the area of the Chapin Mesa Museum. The Petroglyph Point Hike is a three mile loop beginning at the Chapin Mesa Museum. Along the route are Anasazi petroglyphs and views of the Navajo and Spruce Canyons.
Spruce Canyon Trail
A permit must be obtained from the National Park administration for hiking on the Spruce Canyon Trail (2 miles) and the Pictograph Point Trail, in the area of the Chapin Mesa Museum. Beginning at the Chapin Mesa Museum, the Spruce Canyon Trail drops 500 feet to the canyon floor.
Spruce Tree House
To the southeast of the Park Headquarters area, on the edge of Spruce Canyon, is Spruce Tree House, the best preserved settlement in the park and one of the largest, with 114 rooms and 8 kivas. The walk to Spruce Tree House begins next to the Chapin Mesa Museum, descending 100 feet.
Chapin Mesa Museum
The Chapin Mesa Museum has archeological remains, Indian arts and crafts.
There are dioramas depicting the life of the Anasazi Indians.
Far View Ruins
The Far View Ruins were occupied between the 10th and 14th centuries.
An access road leads to a parking area, from which a walking trail leads to the Far View House, Pipe Shrine House, Coyote Village, Mummy Lake, Megalith House, Far View Tower, and Far View Ditch.
Cedar Tree Tower
From Cedar Tree Tower it is a short walk to the terraced fields once cultivated by the Indians.
The tower is a ten-foot rounded wall that may have been used as a lookout.
From the entrance on the north side of the park a winding road leads to Morfield Village. It then continues past Montezuma Valley Overlook and Park Point to the Far View Visitor Center.
Four miles past the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park is Morefield Village, with a campground and park visitor services. The campground has over 400 sites and is open from late April until mid-October on a first come, first served basis.
Knife Edge Trail
No permit is required for the Knife Edge Trail (1.5 miles) in the Morfield Village area.
The trail leads to a picnic site at the Montezuma Valley Overlook.
Prater Edge Trail
The Prater Ridge Trail is an 8 mile loop that features views of the Montezuma Valley.
No permit is required.
Point Lookout Trail
From the Morfield Amphitheater parking lot, the Point Lookout Trail rises 500 feet over 2.3 miles to an impressive overlook.
Far View Visitor Center
The Far View Visitor Center features exhibits of Native American jewelry, pottery, and basket displays. Visitors must purchase their tickets for Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or Long House from the visitor center.
Montezuma Valley Overlook
On the entrance road to Mesa Verde National Park is the Montezuma Overlook, with views of Montezuma Valley and surrounding area. The overlook is an excellent place to watch the sunset.
From the entrance road to Mesa Verde National Park, an access road leads to Park Point, the highest point in the park at 8,572 feet.
From the Far View Visitor Center a 13 mile long road runs to Wetherill Mesa, with the Step House and the Long House. All the Wetherill Mesa sites are accessible by hiking trails, except Long House, which is reached only by a mini-train.
The Long House is the second largest ruin in the park, with a large open space where dances and ceremonies were performed. The Long House can only be visited with a park ranger; tickets must be purchased in advance at the Far View Visitor Center. The often strenuous tour is not recommended for those with health problems.
The Step House shows remains of two periods of settlement. There is an unfinished pithouse, built around 625 AD, and a stone cliff dwelling built 600 years later.
There are self-guided tours through the Badger House ruins, including a pithouse and stone pueblos.
The Kodak House can be seen from an overlook on the Wetherill Mesa Road. There are about 60 rooms in the two-story building.
Nordenskiold Site #16
Nordenskiold Site #16 is named after Gustaf Nordenskiold, who excavated the Step House site in 1891.
Two Raven House
Two Raven House can be found near the Badger House ruins on Wetherill Mesa.