top of page

U.S. Southwest:

Mesa Verde National Park,


August 23-24 2019

(Elevation: 8,500 ft.)


Margaret Martonosi

National Park Service

Heading into the southwest corner of Colorado, we next visited one of the country's few UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Mesa Verde National Park. it is the largest archaeological preserve in the United States, preserving more than 5,000 Puebloan sites from the 6th-12th centuries.  The mesa has an extensive canyon system, which is home to 600 cliff dwellings; the most famous of these structures is Cliff Palace, believed to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America.

The most accessible sites in Mesa Verde are found on the Chapin and Wetherill Mesas, located in the southwest corner of the park.


Mesa Verde National Park was established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and encompasses over 50,000 acres. Mesa Verde, Spanish for "green table",  rises 2,500 feet above the surrounding Colorado Plateau. It is located about 50 miles northeast of the Four Corners, near the town of Cortez. 

Source: National Park Service


Mesa Verde National Park

Visitor and Research Center

Opened in 2012, the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center is located at the park entrance. It houses a state-of-the-art research and storage facility for the park's archives and museum collection of over three million objects. The facility has earned a LEED Platinum rating; 95% of its energy needs are met onsite. 150 acres of sensitive landscapes surrounding the site have been readapted with a mix of high-desert resilient native and drought tolerant plant species, which also address concerns of fire danger.

Artistic components, both in the exterior and interior parts of the facility, supports the 24 Native American tribes affiliated with the park, by incorporating Native American symbolism and interpretive information. An example of this is the sculpture in the main courtyard, titled "The Ancient Ones". Created by Edward J. Fraughton, it depicts an ancestral Puebloan climbing up a cliff face using hand and toeholds while carrying a bundle of wood for fuel.

Visitor and Research Center Gallery


National Park Service

Chapin Mesa Sites

The largest group of ruins at Mesa Verde which are viewable to the public are located on Chapin Mesa, located deep inside the park. The sites we visited included:

* Navajo Canyon and Square Tower House

* Sun Temple

* Cliff Palace

* Soda Canyon

Navajo Canyon and Square Tower House


The prominent tower of Square Tower House, a four story, 28' tall structure, is the tallest in the park. The tower and related buildings are tucked high into a wall of the beautiful and expansive Navajo Canyon.

Sun Temple


Construction of Sun Temple began in 1275, some time after the Mesa Verde inhabitants moved from the mesa top into their cliff dwellings. The Sun Temple stands at the center of the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, and was probably intended to serve as a ceremonial center for the surrounding community, and would represent the largest ceremonial structure ever built by the ancient Puebloans.


Preservation of this site in the national park also provides spectacular views of the juncture of Fewkes and Cliff Canyons, as well as the famous Cliff Palace.


Cliff Palace

Balcony House Map.jpg

Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, is situated in a cave in Cliff Canyon, 200 feet below the canyon rim. It occupies the whole of alcove in which it is situated, and at its height contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas, with a population of approximately 100 people.

Construction and maintenance of Cliff Palace was continuous from 1190 AD through 1260 AD. Sandstone, mortar and wooden beams were the three primary construction materials for the cliff dwellings.

Cliff Palace was abandoned by 1300, possibly by a series of mega-droughts, which plagued the region and gravely affected farming.


Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason rediscovered Cliff Palace in 1888, while searching for stray cattle.

National Park Service

Soda Canyon


Soda Canyon Overlook Trail, is a 1.2 miles path near Cliff Palace. It provides a beautiful walk along the canyon edge, through sagebrush, Utah juniper, yucca, and gambel oak, and offers views of Balcony House and other archeological sites in Soda Canyon.

Wetherill Mesa Sites


National Park Service

Our final stop at Mesa Verde was along the rim of Rock Canyon on Wetherhill Mesa, a 3 mile hike to view Long House. Long House was excavated between 1959 and 1961 as part of the Wetherill Mesa Archeological Project.

The structure is approximately equal in size to Cliff Palace, filling an expansive 298-foot-long sandstone alcove from end to end. The site includes about 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and a row of upper storage rooms. It may have been home to as many as 175 people.


Our camp at

Morefield Campground


Trader Joe's

lobster ravioli- it's what's for breakfat!

bottom of page