Colorado's Mesa Verde
National Park is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site- and a national park with a
difference. And the difference is that it's not a park devoted to the preservation of
native wildlife; it's a park for the preservation of what is one of the most astounding
archaeological sites in all of North America.
Way back in about the 6th century AD, a
nomadic people known as the Anasazi, or Ancestral Puebloans, began to settle down.
Farmers, potters and basketmakers, the Anasazi built cliff dwellings of earth and stone
along the precipitous hillsides of southwestern Colorado. Over the years, these dwellings-
complete with wide passages, streets, houses and even `squares'- became part of a series
of cities, the most prominent of which was in the area today known as Mesa Verde. The
Anasazi civilisation endured- and prospered- for many centuries, until, about four hundred
years ago, it died out suddenly and mysteriously.
Today, all that remains of the Anasazi are
their distinctive black-and-white pottery and the spectacular cliff settlements of Mesa
Verde. Mesa Verde was declared a national park- and USA's first cultural park- in
1906.Within it are an interesting archaeological museum (the Chapin Mesa Museum); a
visitor centre, and wayside exhibits which depict the daily life of the Anasazi. Evening
campfire programmes are held to illustrate the history of the area, and guided tours are
available throughout the year.
Although Mesa Verde is not strictly
speaking a wildlife sanctuary, it harbours an impressive array of wildlife. Among the
steep cliffs and rocks of the park live a number of small mammals like shrews, bats,
jackrabbits, squirrels, and mice. Some larger animals, including black bear, deer,
mountain lion, skunk, raccoon and fox can be seen as well, apart from birds such as
woodpeckers, flycatchers, magpies, warblers, kestrels and owls. Watch out for snakes-
there are rattlers around!
Entrance fees of US$ 5 are charged per
person for all visitors, and a further US$ 10 for all private vehicles. Both permits are
valid for a period of seven days. In addition to these, annual passes- which are valid for
a year- can be bought for US$ 20. American citizens are eligible for lifetime passes,
which allow entry to all the national parks in the country. These passes are free for
those with permanent disabilities, and cost a nominal amount- between US$ 10 and 50- for
Five towns- Durango, Cortez, Dolores, Mancos and Hesperus-
are in close proximity to Mesa Verde. Of these, Cortez and Durango have airports, which
are linked to other destinations within the US. The nearest railheads are at Grand
Junction (Colorado) and Gallup (New Mexico); both are connected to Cortez by bus. From
Cortez and the other towns, there are buses to the park, the entrance to which lies midway
between Mancos and Cortez.
In order to preserve the archaeological heritage of Mesa
Verde, park authorities restrict movement to certain marked areas. Visitors can hike along
six trails: the Spruce Canyon Trail, the Knife Edge Trail, the Petroglyph Point Hike, The
Prater Ridge Trail, the Point Lookout Trail and Soda Canyon Trail. These vary in length
from a mile to seven miles, and demand a certain degree of physical fitness. For those
with little time and stamina, the Petroglyph Point Hike is recommended; it offers
excellent views of the dwellings, and is relatively easy to do. Prior permission is
required to hike along the Petroglyph Point Hike and the Spruce Canyon Trail.
Bicycles are also permitted along certain paths of the
Best time to visit
Mesa Verde is open throughout the year, including all
public holidays. Summer is the best time to visit the park, but it's also peak season, so
be prepared to be part of the crowd. It's possible to visit Mesa Verde in winter, although
some parts of the park-including the tourist lodge and the campsite- are closed at this
Note that summers are warm in Mesa Verde,
with occasional thunderstorms in July and August. Winters are cold- temperatures drop to
below 0°C between December and March, and snowfall is common. Even during summer, the
high altitude of the park makes evenings chilly.
Mesa Verde offers limited accommodation facilities, in the
form of a tourist lodge and a vast campground. Both are open only between April and
October. Outside the park, and in the surrounding towns- Dolores, Cortez, Mancos, Hesperus
and Durango- are a range of inns, hotels, motels and lodges running the gamut from budget
Further information on Mesa Verde National Park is
available from the National Park Service (Tel: 1-800-365-2267). Bookings for accommodation
and tours can also be made at the same phone number. Alternatively, you could contact the
park administration directly at Mesa Verde National Park, PO Box 8, Mesa Verde National
Park, Colorado 81330 (Tel: 970-529-4465).