Established in 1906, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is one of the oldest national parks around and is still the only national park founded to protect something man-made. In this case, it’s several of the largest and best preserved ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings in the US.
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ILNP Park Review
In a Word “Reflective”
“Your dwelling place is secure, your nest is set in a rock.” -Numbers 24:21
Our Visit We visited Mesa Verde as part of our 8-Park tour of the Southwest during March. We were there for one evening and 1/2 the next day.
Our Weather The weather was chilly (in the 30s) and overcast. It snowed on us for about 2 hours but was still very pleasant.
Overall Impression Mesa Verde is a fascinating and educational place. The ruins are in great shape, the hikes are easy and the sense of mystery surrounding this Park adds to the fascination. Because the Park was created only a couple of decades after the discovery of the ruins, they have been protected from the treasure hunters which have picked other ruin sites clean. While many Rangers and scholars have their theories, no one really knows what happened to the “Anasazi,” the Indians who lived here. The word Anasazi is a Navajo term which literally means “ancestors of our enemies,” which adds even more to the mystique. Whoever they were, the Anasazi built dozens of impressive cities on the tops and sides of cliffs between 550 and 1300 A.D. The fact that many are still standing is a testament to their workmanship, and the Park has done a wonderful job of balancing the need to protect them while still allowing visitors to explore them.
Favorite Spot wandering through Spruce Tree House
Minimum Time Required About 1/2 a day. In this time, you can take the historical tour of ruins along Mesa Top Loop Road which gives you vantage points of all the large ruins and hike briefly into one of the closer ruins like Spruce Tree House.
A Longer Visit In a full day, you should still take the tour along Mesa Top Loop Road, hike into Spruce Tree House and take a guided tour of Cliff Palace, the largest ruin (if it’s open). A second day would give you time to visit Wetherill Mesa and the surrounding scenery on the western side of the Park.
Suggestions Call ahead to see what’s open if you’re going any time other than summer. We went in March and were very surprised at how much was closed.
For one, we weren’t able to hike into Cliff Palace, the heart of Mesa Verde. On the other hand, there were NO CROWDS whatsoever in March, so it was a trade off. We’d recommend late April or May. Even at the most restrictive times, though, there’s enough open to leave you feeling like you’ve seen the Park. For any time of year, we highly recommend the one-way Mesa Top Loop Road tour to get good views of the ruins and a sense of history as you travel through ruins which mark the evolution of the Pueblo from pit houses to cliff cities.
Don’t let the maps fool you–Mesa Verde is a BIG place! You have to drive up into the mountains to get to any of the ruins, so it takes a while to negotiate all the switchbacks. Leave plenty of time for the trip, especially in summer when the two-lane road is packed with RVs.
If you don’t live in Colorado, you can’t appreciate how finicky the weather can be. No matter what time of year, bring a jacket/gloves/hat and a pair of shorts–you may end up needing all of them in one day! Snow also makes the roads nasty, so make sure you’ve got good tires if travelling in the fall, winter or spring.
Nearby Towns Cortez, Mancos, Durango (Colorado)
Other Nearby Attractions Hovenweep National Monument
Official NPS Website Mesa Verde NP
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