Mesa Verde National Park, located in Colorado, has a rich and beautiful history. The Ancestral Puebloans lived and worked on this land for over 700 years. 26 tribes built homes and communities upon the mesas and inside the cliffs of Mesa Verde. There are many wonderful trails and tours for exploring Mesa Verde to get a glimpse into the lives of the ancient people and is well worth a visit.
There are a few different options for exploring Mesa Verde. The National Park App has all the information you need for making the most of your visit to Mesa Verde National Park. You can also download and listen to a direct descendant of the Ancestral Puebloans do an audio tour of the ten stops on the Mesa Top Loop Drive. There is also a podcast series that explores the lives of the Ancestral Puebloans called Mesa Verde Voices. There are many videos and ranger-guided tours of the park as well. Check HERE for the most current information and website data.
The Petroglyph Point Trail was the most fun, yet challenging trail we did at Mesa Verde. The narrow, dirt trail is 2.4 miles long and follows along the canyon wall leading up to the petroglyph panel. There is a lot of climbing, sneaking along the cliff faces, and squeezing through narrow passages. Near the end, there is a climb over a cliff edge and then up a stone staircase. The rest is easy, along the top of the cliff you just climbed and has beautiful views of the Spruce and Navajo Canyons. We saw a lot of small wildlife on this trail, including my favorite, a tarantula. Not really my favorite… I hate spiders.
This is an unpaved. 75-mile trail to visit the Far View mesa top community and the reservoir. This was once a large farming community and one of the most densely populated areas of Mesa Verde. From this trail, you can follow the lives of the people who lived here, how they farmed the land, what they grew, and you can compare how Mesa Top living differed from the cliff dwellings. This trail is nice because it is a partially wooded trail so there is plenty of shade and you can explore on your own, taking the time to read and learn the history.
There are many cliff dwellings to explore at Mesa Verde National Park, but you need to get a ticket ahead of time. Check HERE for the complete list of cliff dwellings you can visit and for the most current information.
Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. You can view it from the Cliff Palace overlook on the Cliff Palace Loop, from the Sun Temple on the Mesa Loop Road, or you can do the ranger-guided tour. We chose to do the hour-long hike with a ranger down into Cliff Palace and learn the history of this amazing dwelling. There are many uneven stone steps and multiple ladders for this tour so make sure you are prepared. The ranger tells you the story of the people that lived here, how the 150 rooms and 75 open spaces were used, and about the 21 kivas. It's a must-see while exploring Mesa Verde National Park.
Long House is approximately the same size as the Cliff Palace, with 150 rooms and 21 kivas but is off the beaten path at Wetherill Mesa. While it is less than a mile roundtrip to the Long House if you chose to do the loop it is 6-miles. There is very little shade so bring lots of water, especially in the summer. We did an afternoon ranger-led tour to Long House (not the loop) which was about 90-minutes long and included stairs, switchbacks, and two ladders. It was a very interesting and quite informative tour, with the ranger telling stories about how the Ancestral Puebloans farmed the land, what they grew, how they lived, and why some moved from the mesa to the Long House.
Mesa Verde National Park has some of the darkest skies in the United States and is certified as the world's 100th International Dark Sky Park. We attended the Morefield Campground Evening Program which included stories of the constellations, how the Puebloans interpreted their meanings, telescope lessons, and star/planet gazing. We arrived just before dark, bundled up, got cocoa, and set up our chairs. The park rangers told stories about the stars and then they each took a telescope to see if we could spy what they wanted us to see. We watched the International Space Station go by and spotted a couple of different planets and galaxies. I would recommend attending at least one stargazing session in a National Park because they are very informative and enjoyable for families.
Take advantage of the opportunity to explore Mesa Verde National Park and enjoy peeking into the lives of the ancient peoples that used to live here. If you're in Colorado, make sure you visit!
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