Mesa Verde National Park – Tales of an Ancient People

Ancient cliff dwellings of elaborate stone communities, deep canyons, the vibrant history of the Ancestral Pueblo people, and archaeological sites more than 700 years old are what you will find at this stunning National Park. In late June, we celebrate the anniversary of its birth as a National Park. President Theodore Roosevelt brought Mesa Verde into being on June 29, 1906, to “preserve the works of man.”

Within its over 52,000 acres, perhaps the most inspiring cliff dwelling in the park is Cliff Palace. It is by far the largest, where visitors can envision themselves here hundreds of years ago in a simpler time. You’ll find over 4,000 archeological sites, 600 of which are documented cliff dwellings of pueblos, masonry towers, and farming structures. The exact number of dwellings within the park is still unknown. To visit here is to leave your modern self behind and journey back in time using all five senses with an amazing story of life in earlier times.

The Meaning of Mesa Verde

The phrase “Mesa Verde” in Spanish means “green table,” stemming from the juniper trees and other foliage in the area. Rising high above the surrounding countryside and unoccupied for many centuries, only a few of the sites have been excavated, and many of the sites have been weakened by natural forces. Indeed, some were ravaged by looters before it gained national Park status.

Mesa Verde is the only cultural park in America’s National Park System.

A Bit of History

In the year 1276 A.D., drought struck this region for over 20 years, and so one by one, the villages dissipated and were abandoned in search of a more dependable water supply. By the year 1300, the Ancestral Puebloan population was gone from the Mesa Verde.

Then, in 1765, Don Juan de Rivera led the first exhibition by white men into the area under orders from New Mexico governor Tomas Velez Cachupin. In 1874, prospector John Moss led photographer W.H. Jackson into areas where they discovered the cliff dwellings in the canyon. Other explorers found more cliff dwellings in later years.

In 1886, the first known suggestion that this area should be set aside as a National Park was touted in the Denver Tribune Republican. In 1891, Baron Gustaf E. A. Nordenskiold of the Academy of Sciences was the first-ever scientist to visit the cliff dwellings. He gathered about 600 artifacts which are now in the National Museum in Helsinki, Finland.

After the turn of the 20th century, several bills were introduced for the creation of the park. None passed until 1906 when the creation of “Mesa Verde National Park” was introduced by the 59th Congress in 1905.

Today, visitors can expect to be able to enter any of the sites only in the company of a park ranger. For those who are a bit more independent, over 20 mesa top sites are available with amazing viewpoints which may be visited unaccompanied.

Preservation of the deep cultural heritage of 26 tribes, as well as the park’s natural and cultural resources, is the focal point of the stewards of Mesa Verde National Park, where research by the park’s management staff is ongoing. These dwellings represent some of the best-preserved ruins in North America. They range in size from one-room storage units to labyrinths of more than 150 rooms.


Click here to see the Mesa Verde National Park poster.

Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist who had the rare privilege of studying under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park when he was just 19 years old. Now, Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph all of America’s National Parks. He’s creating WPA-style posters to help people celebrate their own national park adventures — as well as encourage others to get out and explore!


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