The lost Cities of Mesa Verde National Park in Western Colorado were hidden in the isolated back country for 500 years, until one winter day in 1888, when two cowboys from a ranch in Mancos peered over a canyon rim looking for stay cows. They discovered the ancient cliff dwelling of the Anasazi. Today the famous cliff dwellings are a major destination for thousands of tourist from around the world.
Mesa Verde has over 4400 archeological sites that you can explore. The most Spectacular prehistoric cliff dwellings in the world are cluster in the canyons of the park.
These beautiful sandstone cities were built by The Anasazi within caves and under huge outcroppings. The largest one, Cliff Palace, is the best preserved cliff dwelling in North America.
The Mesa Verde tells the story of the Anasazi,(now called the Ancestral Puebloans) in the late 12th and 13th centuries. They built huge cliff dwellings, of stone and mud comprising more than 100 rooms.
What is nice about this, you can walk in and around these beautiful cities of sandstone. Explore the inside of their homes. Climb down into the kivas. Enter their cities you will get the real feel of the place, as if the ancestral puebloans just left.
Mesa Verde is a world class archeological site, but it is much more, a desert garden, a wildlife park, a museum, a environmental center, a theater for Native American dance and a Historic District all role into one. You come away with a real understanding of the Anasazi /Ancestral Puebloans and the Native Americans of the Southwest.
Your first stop 15 mile from the entrance will be the Far View Visitor Center. Here you will plan your visit.
It also has exhibits of historic Native American jewelry, Anasazi pottery, and basket displays and a bookstore.
You must purchase your tickets for the ranger-guided tours of Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House here. If you forget, it is a 6 mile return trip.
Unfortunately, due to the high demand in the summer, you can choose only one of them per day. But Long House, on Wetherill Mesa, can be toured on the same day as Cliff Palace or Balcony House. The Mesa Top Loop Road is a relaxing fun one hour drive. It is a 6 mile tour with twelve easy access paved trails to sites. You will see Anasazi surface dwellings, and cliff dwelling overlooks. The highlights are Sun Point overlook, Square Tower House, and The Sun Temple.
Once you get to the top of the plateau take the third left to The Chapin Mesa Administration Area.
The Archeological Museum, post office, picnic area and Spruce tree Terrance restaurant are located here. This is the true center of activity for the park. From here it is just a stones throw to the Ruins.
Don’t miss the little Archeological Museum, if for no other reason that the dioramas. I found the dioramas of the Anasazi life are most fascinating. These little three-dimensional miniatures and cultural timelines will easily help you put 700 years of Anasazi civilization in perspective.
The path to the Spruce Tree House starts at the museum. This is the best preserved cliff dwelling in the park. As you are exploring the ruins, you can climb down into a reconstructed Kiva. The trail is easy ½ mile one-way loop, and paved. It takes about one hour to stroll down to the ruins and return.
SPRUCE TREE HOUSE
Our tour meets at the Cliff Palace Overlook. The trail descends in the canyon for about ¼ mile. Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in the Mesa Verde and well worth the $3.oo price of admission. The sheer size of it makes it impressive. The tour itself is exciting; you climb five 10 foot ladders and crawl through a fourteen foot tunnel a 100 foot vertical climb.
Park rangers at Mesa Verde have special evening program “Twilight Tours” through Cliff Palace. It begins at 5:30 pm each evening and lasts 90 minutes. Unfortunately it is limited to 20 people. You have to buy your $10.00 tickets at the Far View Visitor Center.
You will enjoy the Balcony House tour; it is the most adventurous of all cliff dwelling tours. It is about one hour tour involves climbing a 32 foot ladder to enter the dwelling. To exit, there are 12 foot x 18 inch wide tunnel feet along an open rock face using two 10 foot ladders.
Long House tours begin at the Wetherill Mesa information center. The tour is ¾ of a mile round trip. You climb three 15 foot ladders. It lasts about 1-1/2 hours.
The Wetherill Mesa road is 12 mile long and it takes 45 minutes from Far View Visitor Center.
The first day in the park I fill my day with origination and a few self guided tours, please keep in mind that tour tickets are required to visit three of the cliff dwellings
Half-Day Guided Bus Tours. Although I have never taken it, I have been hearing good reports. Aramark, the park concession company, conducts the tours. Tours depart Far View Lodge at 8:00 am and 1:00 pm. Tours stop at archeological sites along the Mesa Top Loop Road and include a walking Tour of Cliff Palace. Tickets are $49.00 per person.
Far View Sites Complex includes Far View House plus four other villages and a dry reservoir. The parking lot to the sites is just four miles north of the Chapin Mesa Museum. There is a short well defined trail that takes about hour to the sites.
Wetherill Mesa is the quieter side of Mesa Verde. The sites on Wetherill Mesa are only accessible by riding the free mini-tram or by walking. It is high on my list for first day’s actives. The 12 mile winding road, ends at the kiosk where the tram drives you to three self-guided sites. The sites are Step House, Badger House, and Nordenskjold house.
Although you can see the major attractions of Mesa Verde in just half a day, I suggest taking two full days or more. Relax and enjoys the place. Being stressed out is miserable.
I have found that if you travel with the idea that you can always return and your vacations will be more relaxing and stress free.
The best bet is to get a room in Cortez, it is only 10 miles west of the park. Cortez has large selection of hotels, good restaurants, and many other things to see and do in the evening.