historic photo courtesy of Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwestern Colorado at the green marker. It was home to the Ancestral Puebloans, known as the Anasazi, from 550 to 1300 A.D.
These early Native Americans were the first settlers. They were farmers and developed an extensive irrigation system to bring water to their crops.
Pottery makers, basket weavers, and makers of hunting implements, these people lived and worked this valley area.
In the beginning, the Anasazi lived on the mesas in pithouses, which were underground living spaces or in alcoves along the cliff.
It was during the early 1200’s that the people built their homes in the canyon walls. Whether it was for protection from invaders or the varying climate, is not known.
After the sudden disappearance of the Anasazi, the cliff dwellings were never lived in again by Native Americans.
However, settlers, explorers and others used the cliff houses as their camps and destroyed many artifacts and homes left by the vanished tribe.
Enter Richard Wetherill and brother-in-law, looking for lost cattle from their ranch. They came upon the cliff dwellings ruins and became enthralled by the houses and artifacts they found.
Wetherill and his family spent 18 years exploring the site. He was the earliest person to lobby Washington, D.C. to make Mesa Verde a national park.
Word traveled about this great find and the influx of tourists to this area was enormous. People stole artifacts, damaged the houses and camped inside them.
It took a group of ladies known as the Colorado Cliff Dwellings Association to beseech President Theodore Roosevelt to create the Mesa Verde National Park. The document was signed June 29, 1906 and from then on, the site and its artifacts were protected.
Archeologists were allowed into the park to further excavate the area, hoping to find more dwellings and remains of people and artifacts.
Mesa Verde is made up of many houses. The Badger House Community is located on Wetherill Mesa. Also located on the mesa is the Long House, the 2nd largest dwelling, 150 rooms and 21 kivas.
The largest cliff dwelling is called the Cliff Palace. It held around 100 people and contained about 160 rooms and 20+ kivas. This was speculated to be a meeting place for the people to hold various ceremonies.
From 1908-1910, 2 other dwelling areas were found; The Spruce Tree House and the Balcony House. These were located at Chapin Mesa.
Not only are ancient ruins protected here, but endangered and rare species of plants and animals. The Mexican Spotted Owl and the Peregrine Falcon can be found here.
Rare plants, such as Cliff Palace Milkvetch and Mesa Verde Wandering Aletes, cannot be found anywhere on earth except the park.
Mesa Verde is unusual in so many ways. It has an eerie quiet and a sense of loss. When the wind blows, you can swear you hear voices from the past.
Visitors whisper to each other so as not to disturb the peace of the ruins. We’ve been there and felt the strong vibration of this ancient place.
To drive to Mesa Verde National Park, take Interstate 25 south to Hwy. 160 west. You will travel past the Great Sand Dunes National Park and continue on to the town of Cortez. Follow the signs to Mesa Verde.