Mesa Verde National Park, featuring over 600 cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people, was deemed so important to preserving cultural history, that it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1978. Mesa Verde, which means “green table” in Spanish, was first discovered by trappers and prospectors in the 1870s. After visiting the site in 1872 and again in 1876, New York newspaper reporter Virginia McClurg began efforts to preserve the dwellings, which eventually led to President Theodore Roosevelt declaring it a national park in 1906.
The best-preserved cliff dwelling, and the easiest to reach, is Spruce Tree House. You can take a self-guided tour and the total hiking distance is about one half mile. There is usually a ranger present on site who can answer any questions. This is also one of the sites in the park that is open year round.
Some of the other larger dwellings, such as Cliff Palace and Balcony House, can only be toured with a ranger guide, and you must purchase tickets in advance. These sites are also only reachable from April to October or November.
No matter which sites you choose to visit, you will still be amazed by the architecture of these ancient structures. At some sites you will be allowed to climb wooden ladders down inside so you can actually see what it was like to live there over 1,000 years ago.
The allure of this park is not only the remarkable ruins, but also the mystery of the people who inhabited them, and what eventually drove them away. As you walk through the dwellings, you can almost hear the whispers of the former inhabitants—perhaps they will provide you with a clue!
If You Go
Be sure to check the park web site before you plan your trip to see what areas are open and which ones require a ranger guide.