Mesa Verde National Park | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Mesa Verde National Park

Colorado, Colorado, United States

Peta Stamper

14 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park or Green Table National Park, is a breathtaking indigenous American site in the United States. Dotted with over 4,000 archaeological treasures, including 600 exceptionally well preserved cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde dates back to 600 AD.

President Theodore Roosevelt established Mesa Verde National Park in June 1906, to “preserve the works of man”. The first national park of its kind, today the continued preservation of cultural and natural resources are the focus of Mesa Verde National Park, which features among our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in the United States.

Mesa Verde National Park history

Mesa Verde National Park was once the home of the Pueblos, an indigenous American people who lived there for over 700 years. The Mesa Verdeans survived through combining hunting, gathering and subsistence farming crops, such as corn, squash and beans. Sometime after 650 AD and the early 12th century, the inhabitants built massive cliff homes called pueblos.

Made of sandstone, mortar and wooden beams, the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde sprawled across the beautiful landscape, some built on the mesa tops. However, by 1285 during a period of severe droughts, the Mesa Verdeans left the area and moved south to Arizona and New Mexico.

Mexican-Spanish missionaries explored a route to California in 1776. They reached the Mesa Verde region but never got close enough to the cliff site. It was not until the 1870s when white Americans expanded westwards through Colorado, that prospectors and geologists found, explored and publicised the existence of the cliff dwellings.

By the end of the 19th century it was clear that Mesa Verde needed protection from visitors and private collectors who took artefacts as they pleased. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt approved the Federal Antiquities Act that allowed the president to create national parks for places with environmental or cultural significance. Mesa Verde became the first of such parks.

Since the 18th century, there has been conflict between non-Indigenous environmentalists and local indigenous peoples. Forced into disadvantageous deals with the US government, the local Ute people were not compensated for losing their land to the park. In the 1920s, the park hired Navajo labourers to put on inaccurate ‘Indian ceremonies’ for tourists, exploiting indigenous workers and the differences between indigenous American cultures.

Mesa Verde National Park today

Today, at over 52,000 acres, it is easy to spend days exploring Mesa Verde National Park – it takes 2 hours alone to drive into and out of the park. You should plan to spend at least 4 hours here, starting at the Far View Visitors Centre before moving onto the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and Spruce Tree House, then the Mesa Top Loop Road.

Several sites, such as the Cliff Palace and Balcony House, can only be viewed as part of a ranger tour for which you can buy tickets at the visitor centre, where you can also explore the large collection of artefacts on display. Further objects found at Mesa Verde are on display at the British Museum.

The National Park Service website contains a variety of itinerary suggestions for different timescales. There are plans to replace the Far View Visitor Centre with a new centre and research facility in the entrance to the park. Be aware it is also well worth looking up opening times as many of the attractions are seasonal.

Getting to Mesa Verde National Park

So you can explore the whole park, it is best to travel by car to Mesa Verde National Park. The entrance station is found just off US highway 160 in Colorado. To drive from Denver takes around 7 hours via route 70, or 4 hours from Albuquerque in New Mexico via route 40 and highway 491.

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