Mesa Verde (Colorado) on the map. National Park Mesa Verde (Colorado state) on the map of US

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Mesa Verde (Colorado) on the map. National Park Mesa Verde (Colorado state) on the map of US

Mesa Verde, Colorado

Established: 1906   Acreage: 52,085

Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular remnant of the Anasazi Indians' 1000-year-old culture. For over 700 years their descendents lived and prospered here, eventually building elaborate stone cities in the sheltered recesses of the canyon walls. In the late 1200s, within the span of one or two generations, they abandoned their homes and moved away.

Although they left no written records, their ruins tell of a people adept at building, artistic in their basket-making and skillful at wresting a living from a difficult land. The Anasazi built their dwellings under the overhanging cliffs using sandstone as their basic construction material. The sandstone was shaped into rectangular blocks the size of a loaf of bread. The mortar between these blocks was a mix of mud and water. Rooms averaged six by eight feet, just enough space for two or three people.

Much of the daily routine took place in the open courtyards in front of the rooms. The women made pottery there, while the men made tools—knives, axes, awls and scrapers—out of stone and bone. Farming, however, occupied most of their time. They supplemented their crops of corn, beans and squash by gathering wild plants and hunting deer, rabbits and squirrels. The Anasazi grew crops and hunted on the mesa tops, which were fertile and well-watered except in times of drought. They reached their fields by climbing up hand-and-toe-hold trails carved out of the cliff walls.

By 1300 Mesa Verde was deserted. The last quarter of the century was a time of drought and crop failures. When the Anasazi left, they may have travelled south into New Mexico and Arizona. Whatever happened, it is likely that some Pueblo Indians today are descendents of the cliff dwellers of Mesa Verde.

Far right: Square Tower House, a powerful reminder of the Anasazi—the Ancient Ones— who built these impressive cliff dwellings during the 1200s.

Below: Spruce Tree House was named for the tall spruce tree growing in front of the dwelling.

Mesa Verde (Colorado) on the map. National Park Mesa Verde (Colorado state) on the map of US