Mesa Verde National Park: Deferred Maintenance

Mesa Verde National Park offers an excellent opportunity to see and experience the life of the Ancestral Puebloans.

Spectacular cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages were built between AD 600 and 1300 when the Ancestral Puebloans migrated from the area. Visitors may walk, drive, or take a bus tour through the park. Hiking and climbing ladders in and out of cliff dwellings is one option; hikes through less rigorous self-guided trails are also available.

Using nature to advantage, Ancestral Puebloans built their dwellings beneath the overhanging cliffs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using nature to advantage, Ancestral Puebloans built their dwellings beneath the overhanging cliffs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park is split into a series of sub-mesas, each bearing a different name. There are thousands of archaeological sites across the park and excellent interpretive loops and scenic pullouts.

Designated as a national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the 52,485-acre park boasts about 5,000 archaeological sites.

Mesa Verde is a World Cultural Heritage Park, a designation granted by UNESCO to preserve and protect the cultural and national heritage of certain international sites. Mesa Verde has also been selected the number one historic monument in the world by readers of Condé Nast Traveler, and was chosen by National Geographic Traveler as one of the “50 places of a Lifetime—The World’s Greatest Destinations.”

The 52,485-acre park and World Heritage site boasts about 5,000 archaeological sites. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, more than half a million people visit Mesa Verde annually, and 26 Native American tribes are associated with it. Despite several initiatives to protect the park, its infrastructure, buildings, and many of the largest cliff dwellings need nearly $57 million in deferred maintenance.

Visitors begin their journey into Mesa Verde on a 20-mile winding road into the mountains, with picturesque views of a canyon-dotted landscape from scenic overlooks. Unfortunately, this access road requires frequent repaving, and deferred repairs to it and other roads total $20 million.

Most of the cliff dwellings were built from the late A.D. 1190s to late A.D. 1270s. They range in size from one-room structures to villages of more than 150 rooms such as Cliff Palace and Long House. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most of the cliff dwellings were built from the late A.D. 1190s to late A.D. 1270s. They range in size from one-room structures to villages of more than 150 rooms such as Cliff Palace and Long House. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Large portions of the park are closed to the public, and even those not cordoned off often have limited access due to deferred maintenance.

The third largest and best preserved cliff dwelling in the park, Spruce Tree House is the most visited site at Mesa Verde and the most easily accessible, but falling rocks from a sandstone overhang have kept the more than 700-year-old structure closed since October 2015.

Due to the complexity of the project and the significance of Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling, there is a four-phase sequential approach planned.

From Mesa Verde’s entrance a two-lane paved road winds upward 2,000 feet through piñon-juniper forests and canyons. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Mesa Verde’s entrance a two-lane paved road winds upward 2,000 feet through piñon-juniper forests and canyons. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In early 2017, the park service contracted with a geotechnical firm to conduct Phases One and Two. This assessment will result in recommendations for treatment that, if necessary, will use modern engineering technology to ensure that the alcove is stable and safe for public visitation.

Currently, Spruce Tree House can be seen from overlooks near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

The $6.4 million repair backlog for Mesa Verde’s archaeological sites also includes the 148-room Cliff Palace dwelling, which needs to be stabilized to prevent the ruins from slipping into the canyon.

Ancestral Puebloans lived in the cliff dwellings for less than 100 years. By about A.D. 1300, Mesa Verde was deserted. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ancestral Puebloans lived in the cliff dwellings for less than 100 years. By about A.D. 1300, Mesa Verde was deserted. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buildings throughout the park require maintenance, ranging from repairs to heating and air conditioning systems to upgrades to restroom facilities. Visitors traversing Mesa Verde find a trail network with rehabilitation needs totaling $3.8 million.

The water they drink is sent through pipelines that originate in a mountain range 17 miles away—one of the longest water systems in the National Park System. Unfortunately, sections of the pipelines have degraded and need to be replaced, part of $6.4 million in upgrades for the entire system.

About 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s time to develop a plan to address this problem before it’s too late and these priceless treasures are lost for future generations.

Worth Pondering…

(The cowboys’ discovery of Cliff Palace) was the beginning of the mystery which is still a mystery. Who were these people, where did they go, and why?

—Diana Kappel-Smith, Desert Time

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