One of the several well preservered Anasazi cliff dwellings found within Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park
Created in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, Mesa Verde National Park preserves over 4,000 valuable archeological sites and more than 600 intact cliff dwellings once used by ancient Anasazi Indians. It is one of the smaller National Parks in the Unites States, expanding only 81.4 square miles near a region of the American Southwest known as the "Four Corners.” Named for its proximity to the point where the corners of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah converge, the “Four Corners” Region was once home to a thriving civilization of cliff dwelling Native Americans, and Mesa Verde National Park exists as a monument and shrine to their once vibrant society.
The park was established, as Teddy Roosevelt himself once said, “to preserve the work of man”, and it offers visitors ample opportunity to witness and experience a preserved ancient culture first hand. The first thing you should do once you arrive is stop by the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center near the park’s main entrance. Here you will meet a knowledgeable and friendly National Park Service staff eager to help you experience the best Mesa Verde trip possible.
At the Visitor and Research Center you will have the opportunity to purchase tickets for ranger guided and self guided tours through five impressive cliff dwellings—Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Spruce Tree House, Long House and Step House. Tickets are just three dollars apiece, and self-guided tours are only available for the Spruce Tree House and the Step House.
As its name suggests, Cliff Palace is one of the largest and most elaborate ancient dwellings in the park. Accesible by ranger guided tour only, Cliff Palace contained as many as 150 separate rooms at its peak and housed more than 100 individuals.
Also limited to ranger guided tours is the Balcony House. This medium sized dwelling once boasted 40 seperate rooms complete with secret tunnels, passageways and a 32 foot entrance ladder.
The Spruce Tree House got its name in 1888 when it was discovered by a few adventuorous cattle ranchers. It's been reported that the ranchers were only able to enter Spruce Tree House after descending the trunk of a large Douglas Spruce (now known as a Douglas Fir). Unlike Cliff Palace and Balcony House, Spruce Tree House is open to self guided tours offered to Mesa Verde visitors free of charge.
Another self guided tour can be experience at the Step House. Unlike many of its counterparts, Step House was used primarily as a work site where Anasazi basket makers and masons honed their ancient crafts side by side.
If you have multiple days set aside for your Mesa Verde adventure consider embarking on one of the park’s nine meticulously maintained hiking trails such as the Prater Ridge Trail, a 7.8 mile loop that descends the Prater Ridge. Smaller hikes include the Knife Edge trail—a 2 mile round trip that provides sweeping views of the Montezuma Valley— and the Petroglyph Point trail which begins at the Spruce Tree House and leads hikers to the parks only trail-viewable petroglyphs. For more information about planning your trip to Mesa Verde National Park contact the National Park Service.