While on a fall birthday trip to take a ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in October 2009 , we took a short ride to check out Mesa Verde National Park. The park has some of the best-preserved Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites in the United States. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we decided to visit, but it was definitely more interesting than I have envisioned.
Like I said, I didn’t know much about the park, (except that it’s name in English meant Green Table) but I did some research and found out it was created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, occupies 52,485 acres, is the largest archaeological preserve in the U.S., and contains more than 4,300 sites, including 600 cliff dwellings.
This was what I wanted to see the most, and I wasn’t disappointed. Before I share some of the cliff dwellings we saw, I want to share a little history. During the late 1190s, after primarily living on the mesa top for 600 years, many Ancestral Puebloans began living in pueblos they built beneath the overhanging cliffs. The structures ranged in size from one-room storage units to villages of more than 150 rooms.
However, in the late 1270s the population began migrating south into present-day New Mexico and Arizona. By 1300, the Ancestral Puebloan occupation of Mesa Verde ended. Below is a list of 5 of the most impressive cliff dwellings:
- Balcony House
- Cliff Palace
- Long House
- Spruce Tree House
- Step House
We had our dog Dolly with us so we weren’t able to take any tours, but we learned that they have half-day ranger-guided bus tours are available for visitors wishing to share up-to-date knowledge of a variety of sites. A driver-guided tour to Far View and Mesa Top sites is also available. Other tours range from independent self-guided, to ranger-led walking tours and ranger-guided half-day bus tours. Ranger-led walking tours of Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House are available on varying schedules, admission ticket purchase required for a nominal fee.
Many sites in Mesa Verde may be visited by individuals without a ranger/guide, free of charge. Since we had Dolly with us (pre-Belle), we wondered on our own. We didn’t have to leave her in the car too long. Eventually we took a break and stopped some sandwiches we had packed, while enjoying the beauty surrounding Mesa Verde. We wish we had more time, and maybe one day we can spend a couple days exploring. In the meantime it was great to see and learn some history of the Ancestral Puebloans. Here is a link to their website with more info, hours, directions, etc.