Mesa Verde National Park, located in the southwestern corner of Colorado, is the premier Native American archeological sight in the USA. The highlights for most visitors are the striking cliff dwellings which date back to about 1200 AD. These are stone communities in the alcoves of the sheer walls of the canyons which probably housed over 100 people (Cliff Palace).
Mesa Verde is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is recognized the world over for its cultural and historic importance. There is great mystery here, since the culture that built the dwellings disappeared in the late 1200’s and little is known about why they left or where they went.
Note that the Far View Visitor Center is 15 miles (23 kilometers) from the park entrance. It offers information about the park and daily activities which are available.
The most important attractions are Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Spruce Tree House. Keep in mind that descent into the ruins is only possible on a Ranger-led tour and these may involve steep paths, stairs, and metal ladders.
Cliff Palace, one of the most popular of the cliff dwellings, requires a ticket for a Ranger-guided tour (worth whatever is charged) which takes visitors into the cliff dwelling to discover the intricacies of its construction and the uses of its various sections.
A great base of operation for an exploration of the park is Durango, Colorado. This quintessential western town had its heyday during the gold and silver booms, but now serves as a gateway to several spectacular tourist areas. The downtown area has many Victorian buildings which herald its earlier prominence and the town still hosts rodeos as a reminder of its cowboy days.
The road, US 550, which runs from Durango to Silverton, CO, is known as the Million Dollar Highway for its breathtaking views of the San Juan Mountains which it traverses. For those who are afraid to drive the winding, cliff side route, the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad offers a different way to experience these precipitous mountains. It is about a 9-hour round trip.
Stop at the overlooks along Ruins Road in Mesa Verde for scenic views of the dwellings and the canyons.