Not bad company for a national park established in 1906. The park covers 521,123 acres of land and of that acreage, 8,100 is still pure wilderness. Mesa Verde National Park was the first park in the United States that was designated to protect archeological sites.
Located in the Four Corners area of Colorado, archeological sites in the park were built by Ancestral Pueblos between 600 and 1300 A.D.
An Archeologists Dream
An estimated count of more than 650,000 people travel to Mesa Verde each year to hike up the wooden ladders 10 to 36-feet high and to lower themselves into excavated Kiva’s to get a look at life so many years ago. The national park has made both the mesa tops and cliff dwellings available for visitors reflecting back some 700 years.
Remnants of the stone cities these Puebloans lived can be found on mesa tops and in steep canyons where as many as 217 rooms might have been hidden in the sandstone cliffs.
Chapin Mesa includes Cliff Palace, one of the most popular sites in the park, and Balcony House, a smaller dwelling high in the cliffs. You’ll also find Spruce Tree House along Spruce Canyon Trail, Weather will Mesa, the site of Long House, Petroglyph Point Trail and Cedar Tree Tower. Most of the sites are self-guided except Cliff Palace and Balcony House.
Cliff Palace may have been home to up to 150 people. The tour you’ll take will include a 75-foot ascent, climbing steps and several short ladders. This is not a tour for those that tire of hiking quickly. Fortunately, you can see Cliff Palace in the distance from across the canyon at either Sun Temple or Sun Point on the Ruins Road.
Balcony House is located on the Cliff Palace Loop. This tour is even more strenuous than Balcony House and it requires you to climb a 32-foot ladder and crawl on your hands and knees through a tunnel. The payoff is great however, as you enter the cliff dwelling perched 700 feet above the floor of Soda Canyon.
Where to Stay
There’s a lodge in Mesa Verde National Park called Far View Lodge, and you can see into three states from the vantage point where the lodge is situated. There are 150 rooms each with a private balcony. The Lodge sits atop a 2,000-foot high plateau. It is open from April through mid-October and the peace and tranquility promises no outside disturbances (they have no telephones or televisions in the room). There is also a splendid restaurant at the lodge called The Metate Room.
The Metate Room serves contemporary menus of Native American food like buffalo sausage, barbecued rabbit and oven-roasted chicken breast filled with green chili stuffing. Is your mouth watering yet?
There is also the more casual Far View Terrace Food Court located a quarter mile away from the lodge near the visitor center. For additional details about Mesa Verde’s lodging, camping and weather check out www.areaparks.com/mesaverde.
Visiting the Park
The fee to enter Mesa Verde is $10 per vehicle for seven days. Hikers and bicyclists only pay $5 and there is a camping fee of $16 per night per site.
The main road in Mesa Verde is open all the time, and it is the only entrance to the park. The entrance is open from 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. during the summer, but the times do change out of season.
Mesa Verde is truly an amazing reminder of the past, but remember altitudes in the park vary from 6,000 to 8,500 feet, often too strenuous for typical travelers.
Rita Cook lives in Los Angeles and is the editor of Premier Bride magazine. She also has a romance novel coming out this winter called “Angel’s Destiny”.
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