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Mesa Verde National Park Travel Guide

  • Photo: Bryan Brazil / Shutterstock

Plan Your Mesa Verde National Park Vacation

Unlike the other national parks, Mesa Verde earned its status from its ancient cultural history rather than its geological treasures. President Theodore Roosevelt established it in 1906 as the first national park to "preserve the works of man," in this case that of the Ancestral Puebloans, also known as the Anasazi. They lived in the region from roughly 550 to 1300; they left behind more than

4,000 archaeological sites spread out over 80 square miles. Their ancient dwellings, set high into the sandstone cliffs, are the heart of the park.

Mesa Verde (which in Spanish means, literally, "Green Table," but translates more accurately to something like "green flat-topped plateau") is much more than an archaeologist's dreamland, however. It's one of those windswept places where man's footprints and nature's paintbrush—some would say chisel—meet. Rising dramatically from the San Juan Basin, the jutting cliffs are cut by a series of complex canyons and covered in several shades of green, from pines in the higher elevations down to sage and other mountain brush on the desert floor. From the tops of the smaller mesas, you can look across to the cliff dwellings in the opposite rock faces. Dwarfed by the towering cliffs, the sand-color dwellings look almost like a natural occurrence in the midst of the desert's harsh beauty.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Ancient artifacts Mesa Verde is a time capsule for the Ancestral Puebloan culture, which flourished between 700 and 1,400 years ago; more than 4,000 archaeological sites and 3 million objects have been unearthed here.
  2. Bright nights Mesa Verde's lack of light and air pollution, along with its high elevation make for spectacular views of the heavens, punctuated by shooting stars, passing satellites, and—if the conditions are right—the Milky Way.
  3. Cliff dwellings Built atop the pinyon-covered mesa tops and hidden in the park's valleys is a wondrous collection of 600 ancient dwellings, some carved directly into the sandstone cliff faces.
  4. Geological marvels View the unique geology that drew the Ancient Puebloan people to the area protected desert canyons, massive alcoves in the cliff walls, thick bands of sandstone, continuous seep springs, and soils that could be used for both agriculture and architecture.

When To Go

When to Go

The best times to visit the park are late May, early June, and most of September, when the weather is fine but the summer crowds have thinned...

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Check historic weather for your trip dates:

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