Mesa Verde National Park is a one-of-a kind park for many reasons, from its location to its history, this park is a must see to understand and appreciate early life in North America.
—- About The Park —-
Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, was named by Spanish explorers for the area that surrounds it. This area is known for it’s many mesas (tables), flat plateaus with steep sides, that are covered with trees and shrubs which make them green (verde). The villages and dwellings for which this park was created, were made by the Ancestral Pueblos. From our understanding, Ancestral Pueblos lived in this area for 700 years before filtering out over the course of a couple of generations for unknown reasons. Their buildings are incredible, consisting of everything from single family homes to 200 room behemoths.
This park features hundreds of cliff dwellings, and nearly 5000 archaeological sites! An anthropologist’s dream, it makes sense that Teddy Roosevelt was eager to preserve it in 1906. Mesa Verde became the first park to be established under the pretense of “to preserve the works of Man”, recognizing the cultural significance of these buildings. This park has a little bit of something for everyone, whether you’re an amateur anthropologist, a child gazing with wonder, or just out for a hike to see some beautiful vistas, you can’t go wrong with Mesa Verde.
Covering over 52,000 acres, Mesa Verde National Park takes some time to properly explore! Make sure to stop by the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center, a wonderful resource for park information and place to see exhibits on the Ancestral Pueblo people. These exhibits feature artwork, and information that’s been gleaned on their way of life underneath the cliffs. Stop by the ranger station as well, they’ll be able to help you plan your time, and maybe pick a tour or two to go on. While there are plenty of self-guided tours, if you’re looking for a guide you may want to all ahead and make a reservation, as this is a popular park.
Whether you have a week to explore, or just a day, Mesa Verde National Park is sure to be a fantastic addition to any southwestern Colorado trip!
—- Location —-
The Mesa Verde Park Headquarters is a one-hour drive from Cortez, Colorado, heading east on Highway US160 to the park turnoff, and a 1.5-hour drive heading west from Durango, Colorado, to the park turnoff. The nearest large city in the region is Albuquerque, New Mexico and they have regular airlines that service the airport. Mesa Verde is 246 miles Northwest of Albuquerque, which is a 4-hour drive. From Albuquerque take I-25 North to exit 242. Then take US-550 North to Aztec, New Mexico, then look for New Mexico State Hwy 574. Follow NM-574 to LaPlata, New Mexico and turn North on NM-170. At the Colorado state line, the road turns into Colorado highway 140. Follow CO-140 to Hesperus, Colorado and turn West onto US160 for 24 miles. Then follow US-160 West to Mesa Top Ruins Road in Montezuma County. Then take the exit toward Mesa Verde National Park from US-160 West to the Park entrance.
—- Park Camping —-
Morefield Campground is just 4 miles inside the Mesa Verde entrance drive. It has 267 sites and there’s usually plenty of space. This campground rarely fills. Each site has a table, bench, and grill. Camping is open to tents, trailers, and RVs, including 15 full hookup RV sites that require reservations. Morefield’s campsites are situated on loop roads that extend through a high grassy canyon filled with Gambel Oak scrub, native flowers, deer, and wild turkeys. There is a café in Morefield’s full-service village. There’s also a gas station, RV dumping station, coin-operated laundry, complimentary showers, a gift shop and a grocery store.
—- Free Camping —-
Based on https://freecampsites.net/#!Cortez, Colorado there are 18 free campgrounds within 21 miles of Cortez, Colorado.
—- Area Camping —-
—- Hiking & Biking —-
Hiking in Mesa Verde National Park is plentiful, with numerous trails offering a perfect hike for the novice and a day’s hike for the experienced. Hiking at Mesa Verde is restricted and allowed only on designated trails. Visitors may not enter cliff dwellings unless accompanied by a uniformed park ranger. There are 8 hiking trails within the Park rated as easy to moderate for most people. During 2018 Mesa Verde National Park is offering special backcountry hikes that are appropriate for well-prepared hikers. Children must be able to walk the extent of the trail on their own without difficulty.
Your safety depends on your good judgment, adequate preparation, and constant attention. Wear sturdy shoes or boots and bring plenty of water. Shade is limited, so bring a hat and sunscreen. Evaluate your physical condition when choosing a hike.
—- Things to do —-
Four Corners National Monument is a little over 2 hours drive to the Southwest but it is the only point in the United States where 4 state lines come together in one spot. The Durango & Silverton Narrow gauge railroad is located in Durango, Colorado and is sure to be an unforgettable ride if you get on it.
While not an official activity, Mesa Verde National Park finds itself away from any major city, which allows for fantastic night views. This unadulterated stargazing is hard to come by these days, and what better place to do it than in such a beautiful setting? On the clearest of nights, you can even see the center of the Milky Way.
—- References —-