Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde has over 600 ancient (800 year old) cliff dwelling villages built into rock alcoves high up in the cliff face of Mesa canyons. One canyon has 7-8 cliff villages and a community center built into alcoves, connected by toehold trails and footpaths. Alcove villages have kivas, sometimes more than one, towers and multi-level homes. They farmed on Mesa tops and edges. Puebloans built cliff houses in the 1200s but abandoned it by 1300s. The reason for migration is unclear, but the lack of water caused by severe drought may have played a large role.
Three (of eight) cliff villages side-by-side in the same canyon, high in the rocky alcoves of Mesa Verde NP, CO
Cliff Palace - a cliff village high in the rocky alcoves of Mesa Verde NP, CO
Usually, the cliff village Spruce Tree House would be available for self-guided tour throughout the year. However, due to the threat of rockfall, this cliff dwelling was also closed to tours. Even with Spruce Tree house closed, we were able to view it from a spot not too far from the Museum. The museum is also worth a visit. The most impressive ruin that I saw was Cliff Palace. Of all the cliff houses, Cliff Palace is the one we had the most up close look of, thanks to an outlook built on a rock outcrop along the Loop Road on Chapin Mesa.
Spruce Tree House - a cliff dwelling near the Museum at Mesa Verde NP, CO
Also along the loop road, other ruins were available to see: Fire temple (a temple-like structure on the Mesa top just above where the cliff dwellings were), Oak Tree House and it's neighboring ruins (one believed to be cliff buildings of the center of government), ruins of farming terraces, ruins of pithouses and Far View (a village ruin on the Mesa top consisting of a multi storey apartment building-like structure. This central building was built on the Mesa top by Puebloans before they moved into alcove house.)
800-year-old version of an apartment building on the Mesa-top, Coyote Village, Far View, Mesa Verde NP, CO
In 2019, ranger guided tours into the cliff houses start April 14. Tickets are required for tours. Unfortunately, spring break for us occurred a week before, so we did not get a chance to take any of the tours. Another Mesa that was also closed during our visit was Wetherill Mesa. The road leading to the cliff dwellings there was closed for the winter, due to be opened again in late May. We will have to visit again.
We did this drive/hike as part of our tour of the Four Corners Area.
|Features:||Explore the edge of a Mesa top where there are many ruins of cliff building of different functions (homes, center of government) and multi-storey apartment-like structures of Native American homes of 800-1500 years ago.|
|Fee:||$15-$25 per private vehicle depending on season, FREE with Annual National Parks Pass|
|Directions:||About an hour from Cortez, heading east on Hwy 160.|
|Website:||Mesa Verde National Park|
|Reserve tour tickets:||Mesa Verde Guided Tours Reservation|
Petroglyph Point Trail
A short hike from the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, we stumbled upon the Petroglyph Point Trail. Though it's namesake sounds like the main feature would be a petroglyph wall, the hike was so much more. Unfortunately during our second visit to Mesa Verde in July 2021, 800-year-old Spruce House ruins was still closed. Looking for an alternate activity, we continued on Petroglyph Point Trail.
Pathways that connected cliff communities 800 years ago, Petroglyph Point Trail, Mesa Verde, CO
According to the National Park Service (NPS),the Petroglyph Point Trail once connected the Spruce House community to the outlying sites within the canyon. It was an incredible feeling of discovery to see evidence of a couple of these communities along this short hike while we searched for the Petroglyph wall. This area, 800 years ago, seems to have been a sprawling suburb with pathways connecting many cliff dwelling communities. The trail itself was on rocky narrow terrain along the side of a cliff. Even though I consider myself moderately acrophobic, I did not have any trouble with this hike.
A surprise cliff dwelling on the Petroglyph Point Trail, Mesa Verde National Park, CO
About 1.5 miles away from the trailhead, we came upon the Petroglyph wall. Past the petroglyph wall, we climbed up a narrow staircase, then pulled ourselves up a rock to continue the loop back to the trailhead. The rest of the loop was on the top of the Mesa, which was a relatively easy walk back to the trailhead on the Mesa top. This was one of the best hikes in Mesa Verde, in my opinion.
Rock Art on the Petroglyph Point Trail, Mesa Verde NP, CO
After the Petroglyph Point Trail, we hiked the 2.5 mile Spruce Canyon Trail. That trail was not as archaeologically interesting as Petroglyph Point Trail, at least to a layperson's eyes such as mine.
|Features:||Walk on an ancient pathway that connected cliff dwellings of the past to discover a petroglyph panel on a cliff wall|
|Directions:||Trailhead by Chapin Mesa Archaelogical Museum|
|Our Hike:||About 2.5 miles rt, 550 ft elevation gain on rocky, narrow terrain on the side of a cliff|
Happy that Weatherill Mesa was open during our trip in July 2021, we awoke early in the morning to go exploring. Weatherill Mesa contains a diverse set of ruins, from pit houses from the 600 AD to cliff dwellings of the 1200 AD. The round trip hike is just over 8 miles. There were a few spur trails to overlooks of cliff dwellings. Long House is a cliff dwelling along this route that required a tour guide.
Cliff dwelling in the distance from an overlook on Weatherill Mesa, Mesa Verde NP, CO
Step House is one cliff dwelling that contained pit houses from the 600 AD in a cliff dwelling of the 1200 AD. The 1 mile hike to the cliff dwelling drops steeply. There were ladders in the cliff dwelling to allow for better viewing. Step House was self guided from mid-May to mid-October. Check Mesa Verde NP website for updates.
Taking a closer look of Step House in Wetherill Mesa, Mesa Verde National Park, CO
|Features:||Walk along a pathway (Long House Loop) to discover dwellings of the past|
|Our Hike:||About 8 miles rt, mostly paved (Long House Loop) with some rocky terrain|