Feb 15, 2014

National Parks- Mesa Verde, a tour back in time!

Well, I had mentioned about Anasazi Civilization earlier with little info I have about these ancient people. But, then there is much more they left for us to dig deep as far back in history as we can possibly go! I visited Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and was awestruck by the well preserved cliff dwellings. Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is one place where these ancient dwellings are best preserved. The park is designated as a World Heritage Site because of its archaeological relevance.

Cliff Palace Mesa Verde National Park Colorado
Cliff Palace
Mesa Verde National Park brings the history to the present. The park is just 11-miles (15-min drive) away from the nearest town Cortez, CO. The road to the park and the views from high up the hills are fantastic. When I visited the park in October only few ruins were open for visitors. Though there are few larger dwellings only Cliff Palace guided tour was available. Self guided tour to Spruce Tree house was open which closes by early November. 

Cliff Palace Mesa Verde National Park Colorado
Canyon and the Anasazi
The park has entrance fees and also separate fees for the guided tours. The Cliff Palace and Balcony House ruins can be visited through guided tours only. The tickets for the guided tours are available only at the visitor center. Visitor center also has a gift shop.

Living under the overhanging cliffs! Amazing huh?! It seems Mesa Verde National Park has around 4,700 archaeological sites built over 700 years between 600 and 1300 AD! There are more yet to be discovered. Most of them are small with 1-5 rooms and only few are exceptionally large like Balcony HouseCliff Palace and Spruce Tree House. The cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde are built inside the alcoves high up in the canyon walls. The alcoves are formed between the sandstone and shale layers initially in the form of small crevices which in time enlarged into bigger alcoves, big enough to accommodate bigger dwellings.

Cliff Palace Mesa Verde National Park Colorado
Canyon and the Cliff Dwellings
The Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park is exceptionally large dwellings with 150 rooms and around 20 kivas accommodating around 100 people. The main building materials used were mortar, sandstone and wooden beams. Archaeologists believe that this dwelling might have had a special significance to Anasazis. It was used for ceremonial and social gatherings.

To reach the alcove and to come back we had to use the wooden ladders. Anasazis were considerably small people with average height of 5'5" with the lifespan of 30-35 years. Too young to die huh? I think they died falling into the canyon when climbing the canyon walls to their homes.

Spruce Tree House is the third largest dwelling in the park which can be reached by walking down (1/2mile with 100ft descent) on a considerably well graded winding paved trail. There is no fees to visit this self-guided tour. There is an underground room here where one can climb down a wooden ladder. It was very dark! At the parking lot there is Chapin Mesa Arcaeological museum, open from 8:00am to 5:00pm in October, exhibits pre-historic artifacts and items relating to Ancestral Puebloan culture. 

There are many such preserved pit-houses and viewpoints to see the smaller alcoves sheltering 1-5 room ruins on Mesa Top Loop road. Other than these cliff dwellings there are few mesa top sites too. Far View sites and Sun Temple are the ones I visited during my trip. It seems ancient people moved to cliff dwellings from mesa tops!

Per archaeologists, the Sun Temple might have been a ceremonial structure. It has a symmetrical D-shaped floor plan and has thick walls. There are some indentations to indicate that might have been a sundial. 

Far View Sites Mesa Verde National Park Colorado
Far View sites complex
Far View site has around 50 villages it seems. I visited only the Far View House and Pipe Shrine House. The place seemed like it was densely populated during its times of glory.  I just wondered why did these ancient people chose cliff dwellings over these well built villages on the mesa tops!

Plan your visit to the park between Memorial Day and Labor Day to make most of it. During fall and winter many of the interesting attractions will be closed. It is one of the best places to learn Native American history.


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State Parks of Utah

This post is linked to Our World Tuesday.

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Scrapbook- A Travel Blog by Kusum Sanu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


  1. Replies
    1. Isn't it?! I just can't get why would they select such a tricky place to live! May be for safety!

  2. Interesting dwellings and stories of dwellers. Never knew Colorado had so much to offer. You seem to have extensively covered the state. Excellent post.

    1. Thanks Niranjan! In fact, Colorado has much much more! Natural beauty is exquisite!

  3. Kusum, this is an awesome place. I loved your photos of the cliff and dwellings. Thanks for sharing, have a happy weekend!

  4. Fascinating information and wonderful photography. I'd love to explore there.

  5. I love Mesa Verde ... one of my favorite places. I've been several times and I'm always amazed. Lovely post.

    1. Thank you Snap! Yes, It is amazing to know about these ancient people!

  6. Beautiful photos of a very famous place.

  7. Stunning place and amazing photos!

  8. I love this set of pictures! I visited Mesa Verde a few years ago and found it absolutely magical. Great post...:)

  9. Hello.This post was extremely remarkable, particularly because I was
    looking for thougghts on this matter last Friday.


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