Mesa Verde National Park - Colorado

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Mesa Verde

Two thousand years ago, a nomadic tribe of Indians lived on the mesas of southern Colorado, establishing farms and developing crafts such as woven baskets. They later made pottery and established crude homes in the recesses of cliffs. The Basket Makers emerged as a Pueblo culture around 750 AD. and they are called the Anasazi.

As their culture advanced they built homes on top of the mesas -- of stone and masonry. Underground rooms (kivas) were used for ceremonial and social occasions. They began to weave cotton cloth and they became proficient in pottery manufacturing.

Over a period of time, the Anasazi sought protection for their homes under overhanging cliffs. By 1200 AD, some lived in masonry homes which were built into the cliffs while others lived on top of the mesas. By the time the Anasazi had completely disappeared (1300 AD), their pottery making had developed to a very sophisticated stage. And then, they disappeared. Some archeologists believe that the Anasazi vanished from the Four Corners area because of a long drought. In any event, the mesas and cliff dwellings were deserted and it took two more centuries for the Utes to move into this area of the Southwest.

Park Attractions

This astounding national park, located southeast of the town of Cortez, provides the most notable display of Anasazi ruins and artifacts in the Four Corners region. Here are left the huge housing developments which contain up to 200 rooms, some of them four stories high. The Cliff Palace, one of the largest of the dwellings, was found by ranchers Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason in 1888 on their search for stray cattle. In the following decade, many people came to the area to collect artifacts. As a result, the U.S. Congress created the national park in 1906, to protect this superb archeological reminder of the Anasazi for all of us to share.

Today, the park is also a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site with a museum which is open year round. The park is separated into two major areas: Far View/Wetherill Mesa, and Chapin Mesa. Each has its own road and its own special ruins and other attractions.

Morefield Village, the name for the group of facilities in the north end of the park, is four miles from the park entrance. It includes a gas station, cafe and picnic areas. Morefield Campground is located here and evening programs are held in the campground amphitheater. The visitor center is open during summer months.

South of Morefield Village, the park road leads through a tunnel before reaching the Montezuma Valley Overlook, and then Park Point which both provide spectacular views of the valley below. The road then approaches the Far View Visitor Center where there is a full range of information on the park including trail maps and the interpretive activities conducted by park rangers. There is also a gas station, and a cafe, in the Far View area.

The Wetherill Mesa is seen by driving along a road which begins just west of the Farview Visitor Center. The road runs across the mesa for 12 miles, taking you to Step House, Long House and Badger House, the three major ruins in this portion of the park The Park Point Nature Trail provides wonderful views of the Four Corners region from a fire outlook. The Far View Ruins are viewed by taking a self guided tour across the mesa. This part of the park is open during summer months only.

The Archeological Museum is located on Chapin Mesa which is reached by driving south along an access road which begins at the Farview Visitor Center. In the museum, dioramas show the living conditions of the Anasazi.

Also on Chapin Mesa, a 1/2 mile self-guided tour will take you around the Cliff Palace ruins. This site is a 10 minute drive from the museum. Other attractions of this area include the Spruce Tree House (again with a self guided tour) and Balcony House which features a guided ranger tour of one hour.

Two hiking trails lead into Spruce Canyon. The Petroglyph Point Trail is a three mile loop taking between two and three hours to complete. The trail will introduce you to mesa plant species and it passes a remarkable panel of petroglyphs (carvings) in the sandstone. The geological makeup of the mesa is also apparent from this trail. The Spruce Canyon Trail provides a 2.1 mile round trip which climbs from 6,440 feet to the 7,000 foot level. The walk takes between one and two hours. Both of the canyon trails begin along the Spruce Tree House Trail.

Cyclists may wish to ride on the park roads, except for the Wetherill Mesa Road where bicycles are not permitted.

How to Get There

The park lies south of Highway 160, ten miles east of the town of Cortez. The park entrance is 36 miles west of Durango. There are good motel and hotel accommodations in both towns. A signed road leads south from Hwy. 160 into the park and the Morefield Campground is four miles south of the park entrance. This is the only campground in the park and it is open from mid April through October. The campground is suitable for trailers and RVs. Some partial hookups are available and there is a dump station.

Where to Stay -- Hotel Guide

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Far View Motor Lodge is open May through October. For information and reservations, phone (970) 529-4421 or write ARA Mesa Verde Company, Box 277, Mancos, Colorado 81328. Far View is 15 miles from the park entrance.

Nearby towns and attractions,
Go to
Durango, Cortez, Telluride, Silverton, Ouray

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