Mesa Verde’s Treasures
Among Mesa Verde’s hundreds of cliff dwellings and mesa-top structures, the most spectacular and frequently visited are listed below.
The largest and most captivating of Mesa Verde’s cliff villages, Cliff Palace is located on Chapin Mesa, and features multistoried house blocks, courtyards, kivas, and stone towers built beneath a massive cliff overhang. Built about 1210, Cliff Palace contains 220 rooms and 23 kivas. It can be entered only on ranger-guided tours from mid-April to early November. However, the site can be viewed year-round from a canyon overlook.
A small dwelling, with 45 rooms and two kivas, Balcony House was built high on a ledge several hundred feet above the floor of Soda Canyon. Tree-ring dates from timbers used in construction indicate the village was occupied for nearly 200 years, from about 1096 to 1278, and may have been the last occupied dwelling on the mesa. Named for the walled and still-intact balcony which fronts a four-room structure at one end of the dwelling, Balcony House can be entered only on ranger-guided tours.
Square Tower House
Built in the mid-1200s in an alcove in the cliffs of Navajo Canyon, Square Tower House is a small but stunningly picturesque settlement of about 60 rooms and two kivas. An 86-foot-high square tower built against the rear wall of the alcove gives the structure its name. The tower, which actually was a four-story dwelling, is the highest structure on Mesa Verde. Square Tower House cannot be entered, but the site is easily viewed year-round from a canyon overlook.
Far View Complex
This series of mesa-top pueblos on the northeastern edge of Mesa Verde dates to about 1050. The flat, relatively open area affords a spectacular view of Mancos Valley to the east and Montezuma Valley to the west. A farming community, Far View was ideal for the basic Anasazi crops of corn, beans, and squash.
Far View House, Pipe Shrine House, and Coyote Village are the major units in this complex. Pipe Shrine House was named for the large number of ceremonial pipes recovered when it was excavated in the 1920s. Also in the complex, which is open year-round, is a stone tower believed to have served as a lookout station.
On Wetherill Mesa in the western section of the park, Long House is Mesa Verde’s second largest cliff dwelling. Built in the early 1200s on three levels in a canyon alcove, the pueblo has 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and a unique rectangular dance plaza.
Morefield Campground is located 4 miles inside Mesa Verde. With nearly 400 sites, there’s always plenty of space with the campground rarely full. Each site has a table, bench, and grill. Camping is open to tents, trailers, and RVs, including 15 full hookup RV sites that require reservations.
2010-2011 Park schedule
Mesa Verde National Park is open year-round, but some of the facilities, tours, and access to archeological sites are seasonal. To make the most out of your trip, take a look at the 2010 or 2011 Park Schedule to see what will be available at the time of your visit.
Did You Know?
Contrary to popular belief, the Ancestral Puebloan people of Mesa Verde did not disappear. They migrated south to New Mexico and Arizona, and became today’s modern pueblo people.
Mesa Verde National Park
Operating Hours: Open year-round, 24 hours a day
Admission: $10-15/vehicle (good for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted
Pets: Not allowed on any hiking trails, in archeological sites, or anywhere in the backcountry
Size: 52,122 acres; about 81 square miles
Elevation: 6,000-8,500 feet
Location: From Cortez, east on Highway 160 to the park turnoff
Camping: Starts at $23/night + tax; reservations accepted
Address: P.O. Box 8, Mesa Verde, CO 81330
Contact: (970) 529-4465
Great quote from travel writer Doug Lansky: “The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he comes to see.” Think about it.