Small wonder that one of the nation’s oldest National Parks, Mesa Verde, once the home of over 5,000 people, from AD 550 to AD 1300, is featured in the list of “25 Places to See Before You Die.” Someone once described awe-inspiring Mesa Verde (green mesa) as “perched high in Southwestern Colorado where the air is thin (at 7,000-8600 feet), the history is rich, and the views are spectacular.” We agree, and we loved our visit there.
The more than 600 intriguing archeological sites, including the phenomenal cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Native American Puebloans, truly spark the imagination. These haunting structures are famous for conjuring up thoughts of what life must have been like for those ancient peoples who eked out a living in such harsh and remote circumstances. Visitors also pause to ponder why those who constructed these sandstone dwellings seem to have suddenly abandoned these homes that took such an incredible amount of time and effort to build.
When you visit this unique park, be prepared for walking some steep and winding descents into the area of the dwellings (where approximately 5,000 people once lived) and also some fairly strenuous hikes and ladder climbing back up again.
From Cliff Palace, the largest and most famous of these incredible dwellings — with more than 100 rooms carved into the sandstone cliffs, also be prepared to climb five sets of 8-10 foot ladders. These have been placed in the steep crevasses, allowing a return to the mesa hundreds of feet above. Here on the “green mesa,” high above the cliff dwellings, an additional 45,000 people once lived. To see Balcony House, another of the dwellings, there’s a 32-foot ladder, and many who climb it say, “Don’t look up or down, just straight ahead” – this to avoid seeing how precarious the climb actually is for the more faint-hearted who navigate it. The adventurous trek also involves crawling through a 12-foot long tunnel, followed by a 60-foot climb up the open cliff face, again making use of two 10-foot ladders and a series of stone steps.
Well-informed park rangers are available, both on formal bus tours and also on self-guided and concession-guided tours to provide detailed information on the various sites. There is also the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum located 20 miles south of the park entrance where informative exhibits and a 25-minute video, shown every half hour, provide helpful information, as well as a lecture series and several educational workshops.
Far View Lodge is available for overnight stays — with reservations advised well ahead, and there are two places to eat — the renowned Metate Room, with its excellent cuisine that overlooks the park and also the Far View Terrace Café.