As a young lad of maybe 9 or 10, I remember going to Mesa Verde and exploring the old Native American dwellings and especially climbing up and down all the wooden ladders. It was a blast. My assistant visited the park as a teenager, while traveling around the four corners area of Southwestern Colorado.
Do you have any memories, photos or video to share of your amazing experiences in this park?
—- About The Park —-
Mesa Verde is Spanish for green table and consists of a large concentration of ancestral Pueblo Indian dwellings, built from the 6th to the 12th century. This ancestral Puebloan culture, lasted for almost nine hundred years from around 450 to 1300 AD. Mesa Verde sits high up at an altitude of around 8,500 feet in this rugged area of Colorado. Some 600 cliff dwellings built of sandstone and mud mortar have been recorded within Mesa Verde National Park – including the famous multi-story Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Square Tower House – and an additional 4,300 archaeological sites have been discovered. The cliff dwelling sites range in size from small storage structures to large villages of 50 to 200 rooms. I always wondered when I visited this Park years ago, what happened to the people that lived there that made them leave their homes that they had worked so hard to build…? Today more than half a million people visit Mesa Verde National Park each year to gaze in wonder at the remarkable ruins and still ponder what might have happened to the people who lived and died there.
Mesa Verde is a comparatively old national park and the very first to be created for the specific purpose of protecting and preserving the works of humans. The campaign to establish a national park at Mesa Verde began in the late 1880s when journalist Virginia McClurg began lobbying federal officials to protect the Mesa Verde archaeological resources. Ms. McClurg had visited the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings for the first time in 1872. She returned with an expedition in 1876 and was thereafter devoted to preserving the site. An 1886 editorial in the Denver Tribune-Republican became the first recorded suggestion to set aside Mesa Verde as a national park. The first bill to establish the park was introduced in Congress in 1901 but died very quickly in committee. Four more bills were introduced during the next five years. Even though all failed, it was becoming quite clear that Mesa Verde was likely to become a national park sooner or later. President Theodore Roosevelt signed a bill into law on June 29, 1906, and Mesa Verde National Park finally came into existence.
Mesa Verde National park occupies 52,485 acres. If you’re not too bothered by climbing steep ladders or crawling through tunnels, you can tour several of the sites, including the largest cliff dwelling in North America. In some dwellings, you can still see ceilings blackened by hearth smoke. Driving into the park, you’ll follow a slow, winding, 21-mile drive that takes nearly an hour – add more time on if you decide to stop and enjoy the panoramic views from the pull-offs along the way. Upon arrival, take the time to stop by the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center at the park’s entrance. Here, you’ll find exhibits on the Ancestral Pueblo people and how they lived in the area more than 700 years ago, as well as park rangers who can help you plan your time in the park and help you pick which guided tour you will go on. There are self-guided tours as well. You should make reservations online before arriving at the park to go on any tour.
—- 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 something that you will remember always if you can get the chance to ride on it.
While not offered as a guided activity, Mesa Verde National Park provides wonderful opportunities for stargazing. Since there are no large cities in the Four Corners region, there is very little artificial light to detract from the stars in the night sky. Most nights the skies are clear and full of stars. On a clear night, you can see the Milky Way.
—- References —-