Introducing Mesa Verde National Park
More than 700 years after its inhabitants disappeared, the mystery of Mesa Verde remains unsolved. It is here that a civilization of Ancestral Puebloans appears to have vanished into thin air in the 1300s. Today their last known home is preserved as Mesa Verde, a fascinating, if slightly eerie, national park. Anthropologists will love it here: Mesa Verde is unique among American national parks in its focus on maintaining this civilization’s cultural relics rather than its natural treasures.
Ancestral Puebloan sites are found throughout the canyons and mesas of the park, perched on a high plateau south of Cortez and Mancos. If you only have time for a short visit, check out the Chapin Mesa Museum and try a walk through the Spruce Tree House, where you can climb down a wooden ladder into the cool chamber of a kiva.
Mesa Verde rewards travelers who set aside a day or more to take the ranger-led tours of Cliff Palace and Balcony House, explore Wetherill Mesa (the quieter side of the canyon), linger around the museum or participate in one of the campfire programs run at Morefield Campground.
Preserving the Ancestral Puebloan sites while accommodating ever-increasing numbers of visitors continues to challenge the National Park Service (NPS). The NPS strictly enforces the Antiquities Act, which prohibits the removal or destruction of any antiquities and prohibits public access to many of the approximately 4000 known Ancestral Puebloan sites.
The North Rim summit at Park Point (8571ft) towers more than 2000ft above the Montezuma Valley. From Park Point the mesa gently slopes southward to a 6000ft elevation above the Mancos River in the Ute Mountain Tribal Park. Parallel canyons, typically 500ft below the rim, bisect the mesa-top and carry the drainage southward. Mesa Verde National Park occupies 81 sq miles of the northernmost portion of the mesa and contains the largest and most frequented cliff dwellings and surface sites.