Mesa Verde an Ancient Metropolis

Tower House Mesa Verde National Park

Tower House Mesa Verde National Park

Some things never get old. Like the ancient cliff dwellings scattered throughout the American Southwest. We find them endlessly fascinating.

In previous posts we’ve likened the structures at Bandelier National Monument to ancient condos and those at Gila to primordial McMansions. Compared to those parks, Mesa Verde is an Ancestral Puebloan metropolis. The park’s 52,000 acres contain nearly 5,000 known archaeological sites, including a whopping 600 cliff dwellings.

Cliff Palace Mesa Verde National Park

Cliff Palace Mesa Verde National Park

Among these treasures is Cliff Palace, North America’s largest cliff dwelling. This massive structure has 150 rooms and 23 ceremonial spaces known as kivas. As many as 100 people may have lived here during it’s hey day, although Cliff Palace is thought to have been used primarily as a social and administrative site for both Mesa Verde residents and those of neighboring clans.

Smaller, but in some ways more interesting, Balcony House is accessed by a 32-foot ladder climb. The original inhabitants didn’t enter this way, though. In their time, a 12-foot crawl space provided the only way into the 40-room structure, making it highly defensible. That crawl space is now used as an exit, which leads to a thrilling 60-foot climb up open cliff face and back to the parking lot above.

Balcony House Climb Mesa Verde

The climb out of Balcony House, Mesa Verde National Park

Balcony House, with its climbing and crawling, is considered an “adventurous” cliff dwelling tour. Well worth the effort, it gives visitors a completely different perspective on the park.

To say Mesa Verde is large is an understatement. Plan at least a full day to see the highlights and even longer for a deeper dive into everything the park has to offer. The drive from the nearest town (Cortez, CO) took us an hour and a half alone, due to the winding mountain roads. Staying in the park’s campground or at the Far View Lodge cuts travel time considerably.

Wherever you stay, get tour tickets in advance. Many of the cliff dwellings are only accessed on ranger guided tours that frequently sell out. Tickets are not available online, but are sold up to two days in advance at the park and the Welcome Center in Cortez.

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15 Comments on “Mesa Verde an Ancient Metropolis”

  1. wildramp July 25, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    When we visited 5 years ago we stayed in a b&b located outside the park. That place holds Road Scholar events from time to time and we were able to hire a local archaeologist to take us on a hike to ruins on BLM land. There we entered the cliff dwelling ruins, heard about construction, animal and vegetation of the area and the life people had who lived there,.It provided so much more info for the 5 of us that the rangers in the park had time to give.


    • Brian July 26, 2012 at 11:48 am #

      Sounds like a great way to see the park.


  2. pbaileysau July 25, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    Amazing pictures! I wasn’t aware that these existed so thanks for opening up a new part of the world for me.


    • Brian July 26, 2012 at 11:41 am #

      That is what we’re blogging for, so I’m glad to hear we’re having some success. 🙂


  3. Nikki Wynn July 25, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    We loved our trip to Mesa Verde! so amazing how people used to live!


    • Brian July 26, 2012 at 11:40 am #

      It really is amazing to see these things. I love how they reveal the true age of the “New World” and how our history pre-dates the Mayflower.


  4. hungryheart62 July 25, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    Wow! I don’t fancy that climb!!! But how poignant – all those people with such structure and apparently solid society and where are they now? Makes you realise that no civilisation is invulnerable to the changes and developments around them……….
    Thanks for an insightful and inspiring post!


    • Brian July 26, 2012 at 11:37 am #

      One theory is that environmental changes (drought) and perhaps over production of the land forced them to abandon their cities. It makes you wonder if our species ever truly learns anything.


  5. Loni Found Herself July 25, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    Gorgeous photos of a place I’ve always dreamed of visiting! Someday, I hope.


    • Brian July 26, 2012 at 11:37 am #

      No time like the present. 😉


  6. writecrites July 25, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    Another fascinating spot to put on my U.S. Bucket List, and I actually DO fancy that climb. It’s fascinating to me how people around the world created similar shelters out of the earth. I did a recent photo post on Cappadocia, Turkey. Those shelters are similar to these, except that, instead of rock cliffs, homes and churches are burrowed into freestanding mounds of tuff carved by Mother Nature into bizarre shapes. Much easier to cut than rock, I imagine. But there was still quite a climb to the top ones before ladders were installed for the tourists.


    • Brian July 26, 2012 at 11:35 am #

      True. Tuff is a substance that early humans made much use of. It seems that given similar environments and similar tools people the world over often arrive independently at similar solutions. Interesting indeed.


  7. July 25, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    I’ve been to Mesa Verde, a long time ago, it’s such a beautiful place! Great photos.


  8. geogypsy2u July 25, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    I loved working at Mesa Verde and leading tours. Was always interesting to watch visitors climb through the tunnel and up the ladders at Balcony House. Great images.



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