The most of Anasazi lived in pithouses, houses built a half under the ground and later on the ground (see other tips on pithouses). But about 1200 there was major population shift. The people began to move into cliff alcoves that had sheltered their ancestors.
Perhaps it was for defense; perhaps the alcoves offered better protection from the elements; perhaps there were religious or psychological reasons. Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, it gave rise to the cliff dwellers for which Mesa Verde is most famous.
I think they moved there because it is not so hot under alcoves during dry, hot summers of Southern Colorado.
Most of the cliff dwellings were built from the late 1190's to the late 1270's. They range in size from one-room houses to villages of more than 200 rooms - Cliff Palace.
Centuries before they built cliff dwelling, the Anasazi in this region used alcoves for sleeping and shelter. There is only a shadow-record of their lives: pieces of hinting gear, intricate baskets and crude pottery, and some stone-lined pits.
The first Ancestral Puebloans settled in Mesa Verde about AD 550. They are known as Basketmakers because of their impressive skill at that craft. Formally a nomadic people, they were now beginning to lead a more settled way of life. Farming replaced hunting-and-gathering as their main source of livelihood. They lived in pithouses clustered in small villages, which they usually built on the mesa tops, but occasionally in the cliff recesses for temporary shelter and to store part of the harvest there.
Favorite thing: One of the visitors said that it would be devastating to dwellers to have such fires. On what I would reply that those people knew how to take care of fire and they knew that they are dependable on forests. While in our time of spaceships and high-tech technology people grow negligence to nature that gave them the most of things. So dear visitors, please, be careful with fire on the territory of the park.
Favorite thing: The name Mesa Verde, as a translation from Spanish, green table was given for dense green forests located on the tops of flat mountains. Unfortunately, this natural beauty turned into a view from horror movies (this is what I think of present views of the park). Devastating fires in 1996, 2000, 2002, 2003 killed vegetation and turned green acres into dead ocean of naked dry trees. It is hard to believe that hundreds years ago this place was all green. One of the fires, sorry not sure what year and in what park’s area, was carried by strong winds that not only burnt vegetation, but also depleted earth and left no minerals so important to plant growing. This area of the park has no hopes to restoration for hundreds years. Thanks to efforts of park employees, some of the areas now are covered by dirt brought from other places and full of necessary minerals, and looks like some of such places began their renewal.
Favorite thing: The reason that cliff dwellings were so well preserved is their location, alcove of mountains that protects the building from rain, snow, and sun. Pit houses and cliff dwellings were built from stones glued to each other with a mix of mud and water. Because of those buildings are not protected from nature. Archeological research showed that even during times of dwellers they had to renew and rebuild damage structures. As a result, there are almost none of ground buildings left, except Sun Temple, and cliff dwellings’ structures located close to the edge of alcove were ruined and had to be restored in some places by archeologists, for example structures of Cliff Palace.
Favorite thing: Years ago visitors could see not only cliff dwelling but also top sites, as villages, houses. Although they are now almost ruins that left only clues about their original look, to protect those sites, they were closed to viewers. So only cliff dwellings and some pithouses are available for view.
Favorite thing: The Ancestral Puebloans lived in the cliff dwellings for less than 100 years. By about 1300 Mesa Verde was deserted. There are several theories about the reason for their migration. One of them is a drought and crop failures. Another was a depletion of soils, forests, and animals around. Some new theories assume that Mesa Verde was overcrowded by many tribes that began political and social conflicts for space, food etc. Puebloans moved south to Arizona and New Mexico. One of ranges told us that some of descendants of Puebloans return to Mesa Verde to give their respect to a place of their ancestors. How do they know they are the descendents of Puebloans, I don’t know, but for sure the reasons why people left Mesa Verde will be a mystery for us.
Interesting that Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings, left by their residents in 1300s and their historical artifacts, were not found till the end of 1870s. Spanish explorers seeking a route from Santa Fe to California in the 1760s and 1770s were the first Europeans to reach the Mesa Verde (green table) region, which they named after its high, tree-covered plateaus (now it does not look like that due to numerous fires on park’s territory). However, they never got close enough to see the ancient stone villages, which would remain a secret for another century.
In 1874 one of discoverers of American West, John Moss, brought a photographer William Henry Jackson to Mesa Verde. They were followed by geologist William H. Holmes in 1875. Articles of both Jackson and Holmes were included in the 1876 report of survey aimed to explore the American West. This report led to further study of cliff dwellings.
Mesa Verde was established as a national park ion June 29, 1906, seventh national park after Yellow Stone and others.
Every night at 7pm down at the store, there is a free movie for the history of mesa verde presented by some knowledgeable archaeologists. If you've never heard or read about Mesa Verde, watching the movie you'll learn gazillion times more things than listening the rangers (i was really upset with them as u can see !! it was a dream of mine to go see mesa verde since when i was a child and i think i knew more things about the dwellings than the rangers)
I want to applogize to all other rangers...may be only the two guys we came across were not the best, and i don't want to make enemies . Sorry about that!
The nearest town to Mesa Verde is Cortez, which has many chain motels. Since I do not recommend hotels I never stayed in, I can't suggest a hotel in Cortez. I did stay in Durango, which is about an hour's drive from Mesa Verde. For hotel information in Durango click here
Like most areas run by the National Park system Mesa Verde charges an entry fee for admission into the park. Entry is 10 dollars per vehicle upon entering the park at the booth. If you want to take the ranger guided tour of the ruins just ask at the main visitors center when the next one starts. The tours usually only run frequently in the Summer and cost $2.50.
Fondest memory: trying to convince the guy from my home city of Denver that we really did get 31 inches of snow from the blizzard. I think I showed him the blisters on my hands from the shoveling for further evidence. No REALLY we did get that much snow.
Favorite thing: You can see that the ancient Anasazi were smart builders with limited tools and materials at their disposal. The somewhat conical towers narrow upward from the base to the uppermost third-story room. The many walls have numerous bulwarks and supports. The kivas are either smoothly rounded or precisely squared, and the community (especially at Cliff Palace, shown here) lived on various levels, showing the economy but mastery of limited space.
Favorite thing: The only thing there is to see here, apart from the occasional mule deer or tarantula hawk, are the ruins of various cliff dwellings that were abandoned centuries ago. While many of these sites have been well-preserved, others are in a state of decay, while still others are barely discernible in pockets or gaps in the cliff walls. If you look carefully, you'll see these ancient remnants, but most of your time will obviously involve the exploration of the more famous and better preserved sites in the park.
Fondest memory: This 'dwelling' must have been the equivalent to a modern town! They got their water from down in the valley which made it a bit strenuous to be a housewife. But then again, they would also just sweep the trash down into the canyon. Nowadays, archaeologists dig through the remains to determine how they lived.
Fondest memory: See how their houses were fitted into the cliff recesses? Some archaeologists say they didn´t have to go down to the bottom of the canyon for water, but they collected the water seeping through the stone.