Mesa Verde preserves sites of the Ancestral Puebloans. They lived in the area starting about 1400 years ago, for about 700 years, starting out on the mesa tops and eventually building dwellings using natural caves in the cliff sides. They inhabited the cliff dwellings during the 13th century and then left the area for reasons unknown.
The park is huge. It is easily 25 miles long, with many sites to stop and visit, and several of the sites can be visited only by ranger-led tours. We decided to do two ranger tours: Cliff Palace and Balcony House, preceded by the Petroglyph Point hike and exploring the self-guided Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling.
There is a beautiful new visitor center where the staff can help you plan how to spend your day and where you buy tickets ($3/each) for any ranger-guided tours.
Here's a look at our day in Mesa Verde. The crowds were not too bad for the most part, the guided tours were informative and pretty interesting (Balcony House more so than Cliff Palace, in my opinion), and there was lots of driving involved (we didn't know how huge the place was before we arrived).
|Gorgeous, brand-new visitor center.|
The ranger who helped us plan our day said the Petroglyph Point hike was her favorite in the park and it did not disappoint. The trail hugs the wall of the canyon just below the rim, allowing excellent views and winding through some interesting geology. You might have trouble with this hike if you have a fear of heights.
|Yes, that is the trail!|
|Skinny, uneven, stone steps through the rocks...fun!|
|Vultures warming up in the sun.|
|Remains of a small cliff dwelling along the trail.|
|The canyon we were skirting.|
Back at the trail head, we headed down into the canyon a short distance to see the Spruce Tree House. This cliff dwelling has 114 rooms and was constructed between 1200 and 1276 and is thought to have housed about 100 people. It is about 95% original construction.
|Spruce Tree House from the canyon rim.|
|A little closer view.|
After walking through Spruce Tree House among a lot of people, we drove further into the park to the Cliff Palace in time for our 12:30 tour. The park service allows about 50 people on this tour and tours depart every half hour each day. Cliff Palace is so named because it is the largest cliff dwelling in the park, it is about 85% original construction. There are some steep stairs and ladders on this tour.
|View of Cliff Palace from the canyon rim.|
|Here you can see how the dwellings are built around large sections of existing rock in the cliff.|
We then drove on to our next tour of Balcony House. Along the way are pull outs so you can view dwellings in the cliff walls across the canyon. There are over 600 cliff dwellings in the park and only a handful are open to the public.
Balcony House was a unique tour. Not only did you access it via steep stairs and a very long ladder, you also walk through a small passage way and leave by crawling through a tunnel. This tour is not recommended for people with a fear of heights.
|Opposite view of the North side of the dwelling.|
We entered the dwelling through a small passageway behind the stacked rooms.
Those people are looking through the doors into the rooms.
|A view into the South side of the dwelling which has two round kivas and showed evidence of fires, |
unlike the North side.
The passageway and tunnel features of this dwelling suggested a need for security. Here is the exit tunnel:
|Hans entering the tunnel.|
|The exit was a little larger than the entrance and you could stand up in the middle of the tunnel.|
On our way out of the park we stopped to take in the view to the North West.