My trip to Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado
My family recently spent a morning at Mesa Verde National Park, in Colorado. The ancient cliff dwellings are not far from our home, but visiting the site feels like going back in history. Here are some of the photos I took, and some of the things I learned while I was there. Enjoy!
All photos on this page © Heather Weaver.
World Heritage Site
Mesa Verde is not just a National Park. It's also one of a few sites designated as a World Heritage Site. Its natural and cultural resources are important to all mankind.
Mesa Verde Museum Building
There is an interesting museum inside this building. My kids enjoyed the incredibly detailed dioramas, which depict life in the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. The miniatures are very well done, and the history of how they lived is fascinating. There is also a small gift shop here.
Narrow Stone Stairways
We toured the Cliff Palace part of the Mesa Verde site. If you go on this walking tour, wear good shoes, carry a big bottle of water, and watch your step. This is not a paved sidewalk. You'll be going up and down ladders and very narrow stairs. If you look closely, you can see some of the ancient fingerholds the inhabitants used for climbing.
View of Cliff Palace
Here is a photo I took of the Cliff Palace, from the lookout where we started our tour. You can see the many rooms of the dwelling, which is thought to have been like a City Hall of the ancient settlement. The main shapes used in the architecture are circles and squares. Our guide explained that the circles represent woman and the squares represent man, and the balance of those elements was important to the people who lived here.
Closer View of Mesa Verde Walls
The Cliff Palace was built with stone, dirt, and water. Each sandstone brick is roughly the size of a loaf of bread. During times of extreme drought, some rocks were dry-stacked, rather than mortared together. This was to conserve water. Wood was not used as a primary building material, although some original timbers remain.
Smoke and Soot on Stone
Here is a photo of some old smoke and soot staining on the wall above one of the rooms at the Cliff Palace. The rooms did have ventilation shafts and storage areas.
View of the Valley from inside Cliff Palace
I tried to imagine what it would be like to live at Mesa Verde, and this is the view from the walkway near the rooms.
Walking through the Cliff Palace
The people at Mesa Verde did a lot of climbing. The "windows" in the walls are actually doors. The roofs would have been made with animal skins, and doors could also be covered with hides to protect from weather.
Peek Inside a Mesa Verde Kiva
The round rooms called kivas were used for religious rituals. There are more than 20 kivas at the Cliff Palace site.
Another View of Cliff Palace
If you look at the long horizontal cavities at the top of the Cliff Palace rooms, you can see where the people likely stored their food. Water was obtained from seeping springs, where naturally filtered water seeped out of the sandstone. Those springs are still seeping, although they're in the back of the dwelling, where visitors are no longer allowed to go.
Tree Grows Among Rocks
This tree doesn't seem to have much soil, but it still grows in this high, dry locale. It draws its resources from the environment, much like the Ancestral Pueblo people did when they lived at Mesa Verde.
World Heritage Site Plaque
Mesa Verde is one of a handful of protected World Heritage Sites.
National Historic Landmark
Mesa Verde was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
Get to know Mesa Verde from home
If you can't make it to Mesa Verde in person, you might enjoy some of these resources.
Things to know before visiting Mesa Verde...
- Mesa Verde is located in a high, dry part of southwestern Colorado, near the town of Mancos. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen!
- Pets are not allowed in the archaeological sites.
- The walking tours are not easy. Wear good shoes, and be prepared to climb ladders and squeeze through narrow spaces.
- You can tour some of the sites on your own, but the Rangers are excellent, well-educated guides.
- The Visit Mesa Verde site has great information for planning your visit.