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An Adventure Through Mesa Verde National Park

Tom Malone/Adventure Tribune
Mesa Verde, a U.S. National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in southern Colorado, provides history, nature, and adventure in an easily accessible road trip.

Traveling into the high desert of southern Colorado produces a crisp feeling. The sun rises, but the air remains brisk and clear. Snow often graces the roadside mountain peaks, sometimes melting by midday.

As you drive further into no-man’s land, the quintessential National Park sign appears. Pass the Mesa Verde entrance sign and you’ve made it, only to face another 30-minute drive through endless mesas to reach your first viewpoint.

What Is Mesa Verde?

The road trip to Mesa Verde is worth every ounce of effort. There’s no comparison to witnessing 700-year-old neighborhoods carved into the side of a canyon wall.

President Theodore Roosevelt established Mesa Verde National Park on June 29, 1906, to "preserve the works of man." It would become the first national park of its kind.

The park features a few massive and well-preserved cliff dwellings throughout the extensive canyon landscape, though hundreds of cliff dwellings can be seen if you know where to look. Adventurers can hike into some cliff dwellings with a guided tour during specific times of the peak season, though this practice may soon come to a halt.

The park also features thousands of above-ground dwellings that are in the process of being preserved.

Who Lived There?

The Puebloan people began their civilization around 600 A.D. in the Mesa Verde area by creating underground pit houses. They stored water in their desert environment through human-made pools, which you can still see today.

However, some historians think that these people began to overuse their resources (mainly trees). In such a fragile environment, this led to a water shortage due to climate change. Since resources became scarce in the area, clans had to protect themselves; thus, cliff dwellings.

Citizens of these cliff dwellings would free-climb on the sides of the sheer cliff faces using carved rock notched as their highways to the next cliff neighborhood. The engineering of the small towns is unbelievable to see with your own eyes.

Eventually, the environment became too harsh to sustain a thriving culture, many historians believe.
“In the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away. Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular reminder of this ancient culture,” says the U.S. National Park Service.


Tom Malone/Adventure Tribune
Domestic And International Preservation

Mesa Verde has drawn historians, naturalists, and adventurers since its “rediscovery” in the 1800s. The world continues to acknowledge Mesa Verde’s historical importance and the region is strongly protected as a result.

According to the U.S. National Park Service, “Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings.”

The U.S. government declared the site to be a protected area and made it one the country’s first National Parks. Furthermore, Mesa Verde became one the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Sites, alongside wonders like the Pyramids of Giza.

According to UNESCO, “The exceptional archaeological sites of the Mesa Verde landscape provide eloquent testimony to the ancient cultural traditions of Native American tribes. They represent a graphic link between the past and present ways of life of the Puebloan Peoples of the American Southwest.”

Visit Mesa Verde

Fees to enter the park are small; they range from $15 to $20 depending on the season and are valid for seven days.

Mesa Verde offers on-site camping (not in the cliff dwellings, though), which can be an incredible way to experience the history and natural beauty of the area.

Dozens of hiking trails weave throughout the park as well. Most are about two miles long, aside from the Prater Ridge Trail, which spans eight miles.

Take a trip through Mesa Verde on your way to or from other nearby parks, like Arches and Canyonlands in southern Utah.

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Tom Malone is the Editor-In-Chief of The Adventure Tribune and author of adventure novels, like Across Americana. He is based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains while not traveling abroad.
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