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Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde is located in Southwestern Colorado at an elevation of 7000 to 8000ft. with some areas being a little higher. Over 4,700 archeological sites have been identified within the park, including about 600 cliff dwellings. The cliffs and mesas here were occupied for over 700 years from 600 to 1300 AD.

The park is a U.N. designated world heritage site. The ruins of Mesa Verde were encountered in the 1880s by three cowboys who were looking for stray cattle. Imagine their surprise when they found the long abandoned ancient cities.

Visitors today are given the opportunity to explore and view a number of sites within the park. These include the Far View complex, Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House, Long house, Balcony House, Kodak House, Sun Temple, Badger House Community, Cedar Tree Tower and Kiva, Square Tower House, Mug House, Oak Tree House, Mummy House, Step House, Little Long House, New Fire House, Sunset House, as well as a number of pit houses and a trail that goes out to petroglyph point.

Chapin Mesa contains Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Spruce Tree House.

Wetherill Mesa contains Step House, Long House, and the Badger House Community.

Cliff Palace is the largest (and most photographed) of the cliff dwellings — literally a city beneath a cliff. The ruins are accessed by a path that descends the cliff faces. Cliff Palace contains 220 rooms and 23 kivas. Small storage rooms are found on narrow upper ledges.

Far View House had approximately 50 rooms and 5 kivas. Mummy Lake is a prehistoric resevoir that is estimated to have stored up to 1/2 a million gallons of water for inhabitants of the Far View community.

Cedar Tree Tower is a complex that consists of a tower, kiva, and subterranean room, all of which are connected by tunnels.

Spruce Tree House is one of the most heavily visited Pre-Colombian ruins in the Americas. It received its name from the Wetherill brothers who saw fir trees growing in front of it. It has a kiva that visitors are allowed to climb down into. Some of the best preserved roofs and doorways are also found here. It also has an abstract painting or two. Plaster still covers some of the walls. A toe hold trail climbs the west face of the Canyon across from Spruce Tree House.

Long House is the second-largest cliff dwelling in the park, containing an estimated 150 rooms and 21 kivas. Graves and burials have also been identified here. Upper ledges have storage rooms.

Fire Temple is unique as its kivas are square rather than round. It is located in Fewkes Canyon.

Square Tower House is found in Navajo Canyon, and faces a southwesterly direction. At one time, it is estimated to have had at least 70 rooms. It is believed that the 4 story structure visible today once had a three story structure in front of it, and a two story structure immediately in front of that.

Balcony House is a fun ruin. Visitors get to climb up a toe hold trail, cross a narrow ledge, and then crawl through a pair of tunnels before entering the ruin.

Kodak House can be seen from a viewpoint, and is found in the cliffs of Rock Canyon.

Some of the sites — such as Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House — require that you purchase tickets at the visitors center. Check with the Mesa Verde Park website for current information.

Location: Southwestern Colorado about 10-15 miles east of Cortez, Colorado and 36-38 miles west of Durango, Colorado.

Weather: This is high altitude (7,000-8,000+ ft.) Conditions can change rapidly. Please observe all warning signs.


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