Mesa Verde National Park is a United States national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Montezuma County, Colorado. It protects some of the best preserved Ancestral Pueblo archaeological sites in the United States.
Mesa Verde means green table in Spanish, over 5000 archaeological sites and around 600 preserved rock dwellings of the pre-Columbian Anasazi tribes have been found here. Visiting provides a spectacular glimpse into the life of the Ancestral Pueblo people as they lived here more than 700 years ago. It is the only national park in the United States established to protect an archaeological site.
It wasn’t until 1906 that President Theodore Roosevelt protected the park as a national park.
Covering 52,485 hectares (21,240 ha), you’ll find dense forests and a rugged mesa that rises more than 2,000 feet from the surrounding southwestern Colorado landscape. It is the highest point in the park at almost 2600 meters.
The park is approximately 420 kilometers southwest of Denver and approximately 50 kilometers west of Durango.
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History of Mesa Verde National Park
The Anasazi originally settled the surface of the mesa. Their history of settlement in the region began with simple pit houses and developed into pueblos before building the extensive cliff palaces in the rock overhangs.
The peoples of Mesa Verde survive by using a combination of hunting, gathering, and growing crops such as corn, beans, and squash. Unlike today, nature offered them regular rain, fertile soil and plenty of wood from the forests. There was also plenty of game to hunt. At the end of the 12th century they started building the massive rock dwellings. In 1285 there was a series of severe and prolonged droughts that displaced many Mesa Verde residents.
With the introduction of corn to the Mesa Verde area, the archaic Mesa Verdean population transitioned into what archaeologists call the Basket culture. They created many household items from plant and animal materials, including sandals, dresses, bags, mats, and blankets.
In 1888, Charlie Mason and Richard Wetherill, two cowboys, searched for stray cattle and discovered the abandoned houses beneath deep rock shelters. In the years that followed, Wetherill devoted himself to the study of many Anasazi ruins and undertook numerous excavations. Researchers were brought in. After Gustaf Nordenskiöld, a Swedish researcher, had sent around 600 remains to Sweden, what is now the most important national park in the United States in terms of cultural history was founded on June 29, 1906 to protect the Anasazi settlements. It was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List on September 6, 1978.
Architecture in Mesa Verde Park
Mesa Verde is known for its large number of well-preserved cliff dwellings, alcove houses or cliffside houses along the cliff faces. They consist partly of sandstone blocks that have been plastered with mortar.
Farming in Mesa Verde National Park
Beginning in the 6th century, corn, beans, and squashes were grown in the Mesa Verde area. In addition, the population subsisted on hunting bighorn sheep, antelope and elk. They made tools from the bones of the hunted animals. Collecting seeds and fruits from wild plants was also popular.
In addition to agriculture, clay was used, and many different ceramic vessels were produced.
Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado
In 1886 there was the first known proposal to create a national park around the archaeological site. In 1889, Goodman Point Pueblo, the first pre-Columbian archaeological site in the Mesa Verde area, was protected. Until 1906 there were several attempts to protect the area. However, since this was not achieved so quickly, many artifacts from Mesa Verde are now in museums and private collections in the United States and around the world. A representative selection of clay vessels and objects can be found, for example, in the British Museum in London.
But the efforts were successful, in 1906 President Teddy Roosevelt established Mesa Verde National Park to preserve the works of man. From 1908 to 1922 the Spruce Tree House, Cliff Palace and Sun Temple Ruins were stabilized.
In 1932 roads, paths and museum pieces were built in the area. The first buildings were built in Mesa Verde. From 1958 to 1965 there were other archaeological sites in the area that can be visited as attractions.
Mesa Verde was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, a World Heritage Site in 1978, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
As of 2015, Sunset at Mesa Verde National Park has been named the top cultural attraction in the western United States.
Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center & Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum
The Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center is located near the park entrance on US Hwy 160. It offers a great insight into the history of this area and its inhabitants.
The museum is located on Chapin Mesa about 20 miles from the park entrance.
The museum depicts Ancestral Pueblo life. There are also many displays of prehistoric artifacts, a chronology of Ancestral Pueblo culture, and other exhibits from the park.
Activities in the park
The park offers many hiking trails. The main attractions in the park are:
– The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, is open year-round.
– Three of the cliff dwellings at Chapin Mesa can be visited.
– Spruce Tree House is open year round weather permitting.
– Balcony House, Cliff Palace and Long House can be visited with ranger tours. Many other apartments are visible from the street but not accessible.
When visiting the Mesa Verde Park, it is also a good idea to visit the neighboring Ute Mountain Tribal Park. It is about 51,000 hectares in size and stretches along the Mancos River. Hundreds of the sights, cliff dwellings, petroglyphs and murals of Ancestral Pueblo and Ute cultures are also found here at Ute Mountain Tribal Park.