1906: National Park
About the SiteAbout 1,400 years ago, people living in the Four Corners area decided to move to and and live at Mesa Verde. For over 700 years they called home the mesa tops and the canyons below, building simple structures at first, more elaborate buildings later. Their construction culminated in the large cliff dwellings that make Mesa Verde famous. Then, shortly after these buildings were done, the people moved away for good. They left behind no written record, and much of their daily life, and most of their motivations and thoughts, are lost for good. Archaelogists and anthropologists have sifted through clues, both old and new, and have tried to explain as best they can how these people lived here, and why and where they went.
What You're Going to SeeThe cliff dwellings are the most interesting part of Mesa Verde. But first, you have to get there. Mesa Verde is in the southwest corner of Colorado, a long drive from most places, but even when you get to the turnoff your journey for a stamp is far from over. It's a fifteen-mile drive along a narrow blacktop road to get to the main visitor center, Far View. There's a good-sized parking lot, which is a good thing. In July we found Mesa Verde to be pretty crowded, and the Far View building was awash with people. The long line was to get tickets to the more popular tours. Most of the areas open to visitors require a ticket; only Spruce House does not. Guess where we chose to go?
Personal ObservationsIt was a warm day in Colorado, with scattered clouds and hazy views. I'd hoped for a good picture from the Far View visitor center, but the haziness robbed detail from the distant canyons. I liked how they set up the visitor center - there was a good parking lot across the road, and visitors could safely travel in a tunnel lthat ran underneath the road. The problem with this National Park, as with many others, is that there simply wasn't enough room. There was enough land surrounding the visitor center, but the building itself seemed cramped and small. Yes, there there a lot of people there, but even taking that into account, I thought the NPS could have built a bigger building. There was no easy wandering inside; the crush of people made it an unpleasant experience. I got my refrigerator magnet, my Mesa Verde stamp and my Yucca House stamp, and got out of there. The rest of the family wisely took a look at the Center, and went back outside. Now, we had driven up this day from the town of Aztec, site of Aztec Ruins National Monument in northern New Mexico. It was a pretty drive, actually, and I was glad we came. But you have to realize that we were on the last day of a long 6-day driving vacation, and you ought to know that this was the fourteenth or so archaelogical NPS site we'd seen, the fifth on this trip alone. And we'd seen cliff dwellings before, at Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Montezuma Castle National Monument, Navajo National Monument, Tonto National Monument. So, while Mesa Verde is impressive in its sheer number of cliff dwelling sites, it wasn't as if we'd never seen anything like it before.
Getting ThereFrom Durango, go west on U.S. 160 for about 30 miles. There is a well-marked exit that leads you directly to Mesa Verde, on your left (to the south).
Nearby AttractionsYucca House National Monument is about ten miles to the west. The edge of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is about 100 miles to the west. Hovenweep National Monument is about 20 miles to the west northwest. Natural Bridges National Monument is about 80 miles to the west northwest. Canyonlands National Park is about 85 miles to the northwest. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is about 80 miles north northeast, and Curecanti National Recreation Area is just to its east. Aztec Ruins National Monument is about 30 miles to the southeast. Chaco Culture National Historic Park is about 80 miles to the south. Canyon de Chelly is about 85 miles to the south southeast. Navajo National Monument is about 100 miles west southwest.