Mesa Verde National Park is located in the southwestern corner of the state of Colorado. It is one of the best examples of the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people, or cliff dwellers (formerly know as the Anasazi) who lived here on this mesa for over 700 years. There are over 600 cliff dwellings located here and 5000 archeological sites. And they are some of the best preserved in the US.
I had Mesa Verde on my list of places to see on our trip to Colorado this past summer. The visitor center was located about 30 minutes from where we were staying so on the last day we decided to drive over and visit. I thought we'd bebop on in and watch the movie, see some of the cliff dwellings and be on our way. Not so fast, my friend.
First off, Mesa Verde is huge! The main visitor center, located off of Highway 160 between Cortez and Mancos, is just the tip of the iceberg. Once we arrived we found out that the movie was located 30 minutes away at the Far View Visitor Center which also houses the food services, small museum and a cliff dwelling. Then you drive the Mesa Top Loop Road with it's overlooks and canyon views.And to see the cliff dwellings up close, except for one, requires a guided tour.(And be prepared that you must be physically fit enough for climbing ladders and crawling through a tunnel) Oops! So much for bebopping in and out. We hadn't brought any food or drink - nor done enough research obviously.
But we were here. Let's give it a go. We regrouped and started our twisty, curvy drive up the Mesa to the Far View Visitor Center area. And here's another good one for you - I heard the name Mesa Verde but never thought we'd be driving up the Mesa to see the cliff dwellings. I'd seen photos of the cliff dwellings but never realized they were on top of the mesa - duh. Yeah, "cliff" dwellings - I get it now.
There are two loops that you can drive- the Long House loop which includes the Wetherill Mesa and the Mesa Top loop which includes the Chapin Mesa. The Mesa Top loop includes more viewpoints but both are worth taking. You can see several examples of the cliff dwellings including: Spruce Tree House, Cliff Palace, Balcony House, the Sun Temple - an example of one of the worship houseand several pit houses (early houses dug into the earth like a pit that have been excavated) that you can walk right up to. Most require a guided tour but you can do the self-guided driving loops and visit one cliff dwelling yourself - Spruce Tree House - which was unfortunately closed when we were visiting.
Mesa Verde is a fascinating place and I learned an incredible
amount in our short visit.(The site was discovered in 1888 when two ranchers were looking for stray cattle,some 24 tribes can claim an ancestral link to Mesa Verde and some cliff dwellings were one room and some were as large as a village with 150 rooms!) Seven hundred years of history in one national park. Which deserves more than an afternoon visit! So if you go, plan ahead. Take your time (But be aware that there is only one park lodge to stay at within the park so you may have to drive a bit to get to the park each day unless you stay at Far View)Find out what's open - bring some food and water - stop at the overlooks. And enjoy.
How about you? Have you been to Mesa Verde? Do you do slow travel well - or do you run around trying to see everything at once, like me?
This post is part of a link-up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party!