I always hate to bring this up as mentioning the need to tread gently and respectfully to VT members is sort of preaching to the choir. Unfortunately, vandalism, theft of artifacts, and damage to fragile ecological sites and structures is such a problem for our national parks that they need all the help they can get. Many thousands of ancient, sacred archeological ruins and burial sites are scattered across America's Southwest. Constant wind, rain and ice erosion often uncover bones and artifacts that provide valuable clues about the people who once lived there. It's important that they're left in place for study by trained archeologists, or to be re-buried, according to their customs, by tribal descendants.
Some well-meaning visitors retrieve artifacts and turn them in to park officials, thinking they're doing a good deed by keeping them out of the hands of thieves. Others unknowingly climb or sit on crumbling walls because there's no sign telling them not to, or they're non-English speaking and can't read posted warnings (unfortunately, almost always in English).
A good rule of thumb is if you run across an important-looking bit of something, make a note of where you saw it, what you think it is, and report it to one of the rangers. They'll be grateful and will send someone to record the find and retrieve it, if necessary. Gently show others who may not understand that they shouldn't sit, walk or climb on something fragile. And by all means, if you see anyone willfully defacing or vandalizing park property, find a ranger immediately and turn the buggers in!
Mesa Verde National Park is a very photogenic place. Not only are the cliff dwellings atmospheric, they are formed of reddish clay which takes on great hues when the sun is low on the horizon.
One problem with taking photos here is the dwellings are set into cliffs and it pays to know when the sun will shine on them. Otherwise, you might find yourself shooting pictures in the shade at all times. This doesn't have to be a bad thing and for some of the sites, might be your best option. Thankfully, the park service provides free of charge, an “Amateur Photographer's Guide to Mesa Verde National Park.” This one sheet hand out tells you what to expect at each site with regard to the sun. It is well worth picking up. All you have to do is ask. We were lucky we got a friendly ranger who on hearing a few of my questions realized it was something I would want, and offered it to me without even asking!
In general, Spruce Tree House is best late afternoon for sunny shots or early morning for shady ones. Cliff Palace is best late afternoon. Balcony House is best early morning. In general, midday is not good as you tend to get high contrast situations where part of your photos will be overexposed and others less so.
The Kiva is perhaps the most intriguing part of the cliff dwellings and many of the ranger stories revolve around them. Most of what we know about the kiva comes from current ancestors of the Anasazi who use similar areas in their pueblos for spiritual needs. When not in use, they are utilized for social functions or for work. In general, they are gathering places.
Since the kiva was a special room, it was the most advanced with regard to design. There was a large pit in the center which acted as a fireplace. Fresh air was drawn up through a hole in the floor called a sipapus. A ventilator shaft allowed this air to escaped but there wisely put in a deflector to keep it from being too strong a draft.
Please keep in mind that you can be fined up to $100,000 and face imprisonment for up to 20 years for defacing or removing any object of antiquity within the park.