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Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park - An Overview

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Mesa Verde National Park, Cortez, Colorado © dbking via Flickr

Overview:

Mesa Verde, Spanish for “green table,” offers visitors the opportunity to view multistoried dwellings in cliff alcoves that rise 2,000 feet above Montezuma Valley. The dwellings are remarkably preserved allowing archaeologists to locate more than 4,800 archaeological sites (including 600 cliff dwellings) dating from about A.D. 550 to 1300.

History:

Beginning about A.D. 750, ancestral Puebloans grouped their mesa-top dwellings in villages, many of which were moved into recesses in the cliffs. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived here, building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. In the late A.D. 1200s, people left their homes and moved away but since communities were so sheltered, they were preserved over time. Mesa Verde National Park now preserves a stunning reminder of this ancient culture.

Mesa Verde was established by Congress as a national park on June 29, 1906 and was designated a World Heritage Site on September 6, 1978.

When to Visit:

The park is open year-round and offers a great experience in any season. For winter enthusiasts, check out the park for great cross-country skiing. Others may enjoy visiting from April through September when wildflowers are in bloom.

Getting There:

The nearest airports are in Cortez, CO, Durango, CP, and Farmington, NM. Once there, you will need a car to get around the park.

For those driving to the park, Mesa Verde is located in southwest Colorado. It’s about an hour from Cortez, CO - just head east on Highway 160 and follow signs for the park turnoff. The park is also about 1.5 hours from Durango, CO if you head west on Highway 160.

You can take a bus to Durango, CO, but you will need to rent a car to get from the bus terminal to the park.

Fees/Permits::

All visitors are required to pay an entrance fee to get into the park. If you enter by car, you will need to pay $10, which is valid for seven days and includes passengers in the vehicle. The fee is for visitors entering the park anytime during the following dates: January 1 - May 28 or September 6 - December 31. For those entering the park from May 29 - September 5, the fee is $15.

For visitors entering by bicycle, motorcycle, or by foot, the entrance fee is $5. It is also good for seven days and applies to the following dates: January 1 - May 28 or September 6 - December 31. For those entering the park from May 29 - September 5, the fee is 8. If you think you will visit the park multiple times during the year, you may want to consider purchasing the Mesa Verde Annual pass for $30. This will waive the entrance fee for a full year.

Another good purchase is the America the Beautiful - National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. This pass waives the entrance fee at all national parks and Federal recreation sites that charge an entrance/standard amenity.

Things to Do:

There’s lots to do within the park, depending on how much time you have to visit. Activities include ranger-led activities, archaeological walks, tours, evening campfire programs, self-guided tours, hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.

Major Attractions:

Chapin Mesa Museum: Visitors can pick up guiding booklets, explore dioramas, view artifacts and Indian arts and crafts. A wonderful collection of Mesa Verde pottery is also housed here.

Petroglyph Point Trail: This self-guided nature walk branches off the Spruce Tree House Trail and showcases one of the park’s largest petroglyphs - a panel 12 feet across.

Balcony House: This 40-room dwelling is a highlight of the park. Rangers can guide visitors up a 32-foot ladder to a ledge site with a breathtaking panoramic view.

Long House Trail: Rangers can lead visitors down a .75 mile trail to the park’s second largest cliff dwelling - 150 rooms.

Badger House Community: The houses and pueblos of this community showcase the difference between life on the mesa top and in the canyon alcoves.

Accommodations:

There is one campground within the park - Morefield, with a 14-day limit. The campground is open mid-April to mid-October and runs on a first-come, first-served basis. Rates start at $23 per night for a site with a maximum of two tents. Group sites are also available for $6 per night, per adult or child ($60 minimum).

Inside the park, visitors may want to stay at the Far View Lodge for a a beautiful and relaxing stay. The lodge sits high on Mesa Verde offering panoramic views into three states. The lodge is open from April 22 through October 21 and reservations may be made online or by calling 800-449-2288.

Pets:

Activities with pets are very limited at Mesa Verde National Park. Pets are not allowed on trails, in archeological sites, or in buildings. You may walk your pets along paved roads, in parking lots, and at campgrounds. Pets must be leashed at all times when outside a vehicle and it is prohibited to leave pets unattended or tied to any object within the park.

Visitors with service animals are encouraged to contact the park before visiting. There are many opportunities and locations within the park for individuals with service animals to visit but opportunities change on a seasonal basis.

There are many places to board your pet during your visit to the park. Check out the Cortez Adobe Animal Hospital at 970-565-4458. You may also want to contact the tourism offices for Mancos, Durango, Dolores, and Cortez.

Contact Info:

By Mail:
Mesa Verde National Park
P.O. Box 8
Mesa Verde, Colorado 81330

Phone: 970-529-4465

Email

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