“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. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Then, in the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away.” (National Park Service)
One day, my husband asked if I wanted to go see the ancient cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde. Being from Peru and having seen Machu Picchu several times, I answered the only way a stuck-up I-have-seen-real-ancient-ruins-before kind-of-girl could. “We’re driving to Mesa Verde to see 700-hundred-year-old ruins??” I almost rolled my eyes. “Hello? I’ve seen ruins a couple+ thousand years old already? Now, that is ancient,” I said smugly. Well, that was the petulant, immature part of me trying to come out, but luckily, I squashed it right away. Ignorant I’m not – and I’m definitely interested in archeology, architecture, history, and nature – all of which you can find at Mesa Verde – and more.
I’m always up for an adventure – and traveling is a most important part of my life. You don’t have to ask me twice. I packed my weekender bag & was ready to go very early (which is not like me, btw. Unless I’m going somewhere away from my house, of course).
Getting to Mesa Verde is easy. It is in south west Colorado. We drove from Denver, taking 285 South, which is a gorgeous, scenic road. The drive, without stopping (except for bathroom & fuel brakes), takes about 6.5 hours, approximately.
Mesa Verde is easily accessible from other states too. The nearest airports are Cortez, Colorado; Durango, Colorado; and Farmington, New Mexico. The closest bus terminal is located in Durango, Colorado, but you’ll need to rent a car to get from the bus terminal to the park. The entrance to Mesa Verde is 35 miles from Durango.
I didn’t know this, but Mesa Verde National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The ancient dwellings are some of the most notable and best preserved archeological sites in the North American Continent. This area is considered as the site of the prehistoric Ancestral Puebloan culture (previously known as the Anasazi Indians).
We got to the park and had to drive just a bit inside before we could park. We got out, and started hiking (actually, walking) down to the ruins. Some ruins are more accessible than others, but you can walk down to Cliff Palace, for example, which is amazing.
Cliff Palace is the largest and most famous cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde featuring over 150 individual rooms and more than 20 kivas (rooms for religious rituals). It housed approximately 100 people. It’s made of sandstone, wooden beams and mortar.
We didn’t hike down to Spruce Tree House, unfortunately. I took a photo from above, though. It is the third largest cliff dwelling. It was constructed between A.D. 1211 and 1278. It features about 130 rooms and 8 kivas, which are built into a natural alcove. Archeologists believe it housed 60 to 80 people, approx.
As you walk through various cliff dwellings, enter the different rooms and chambers, climb up/down wooden stairs, and explore, you’ll learn about the history of this ancient culture.
This is a great trip to soak up some ancient history and culture, learn about archeology; and if you enjoy photography, it’s a great opportunity to get some cool shots as well.
You can stay at Far View Lodge, which is located 15 miles inside Mesa Verde National Park. There’s excellent dining and amazing views. There are also hotels outside the park, but still nearby.
If you’re in this area, you can also take a relatively short drive to Four Corners Monument, where you can stand in the very spot where 4 US states meet: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. This is also the dividing line where two Native American nations live: the Ute Tribe and the Navajo Nation.
There is so much history, here. And natural beauty. But, more importantly, it is also a spiritual place. It’s a place to connect with the past – with the ancestors of this world.