Mesa Verde National Park Things to Do

  • Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde
    Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde
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Most Recent Things to Do in Mesa Verde National Park

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    Spruce Tree House

    by Jim_Eliason Updated Apr 12, 2013

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    Spruce Tree House
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    This is the best preserved cliff dwelling and one of the few with open access. No tour ticket is required, however rangers patrol the area to ensure you don't access unauthorized areas. It's a half mile hike from the parking lot to the dwelling.

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    Cliff Palace Overlook

    by Jim_Eliason Updated Apr 12, 2013

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    Mesa Verde is dotted with hundreds of small cliff dwellings. The largest of these is the Cliff Palace. An overview allows a good view from the cliff face above down into the structure. To enter the structure you must buy a $3 tour ticket from the Visitor's center and go on a guided tour.

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    Wetherill Mesa

    by lisa85202 Written Feb 7, 2012

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    The Tram Ride
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    I only recommend going if you have lots of time. Chapin Mesa is the place to start- but if you have extra time, take the drive to Wetherill Mesa. It did seem like a very long drive, but the views were amazing.

    When you get to the parking area they have a tram ride (I'm pretty sure it was free). We were worn out by this time, so enjoyed the ride. It was in one of those open air vehicles with a canopy. They take you on a ~45min ride with a stop to view Long House from afar. We didn't do the full walking tour of this particular cliff dwelling. There are two stops where you can get out of the tram to tour on your own,... we just stayed on for the ride.

    The area had been burned by a wildfire, so not much greenery. We did see wild horses playing on the hillside as well as a deer that ran right in front of the vehicle.

    A very enjoyable way to finish off the trip to Mesa Verde when your feet are worn out!

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    Check out Balcony House Tour in the Afternoon

    by lisa85202 Written Feb 7, 2012

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    One of the ladders to enter Balcony House
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    Balcony House is a very fun tour, with lots of ladders and tunnels. You cannot see this cliff dwelling from the road, therefore I recommend this guided tour. If visiting during the summer months, plan this tour in the afternoon, then your tour will be in the shade!

    Tour tickets must be purchased in advance at the Visitor Center. ($3 each)

    Allow plenty of time to get to the tour. The road through the park is quite lengthy with a slow speed limit.

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    Touring the three major cliff dwellings

    by goodfish Updated Nov 20, 2011

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    There are 3 large cliff dwellings that can can only be toured, up close, with an NPS ranger:

    Cliff Palace, on Chapin Mesa, is the largest and involves climbing five 8-ft. ladders. It's not scary or very difficult - there were children on our tour and they had no issues with it, although I wouldn't bring the very little ones.

    Balcony House is also on Chapin Mesa and is a little more difficult to explore. Seeing that site involves climbing a 32-ft. ladder, two 10-ft. ladders on an open rock face, and a 12-ft. crawl through an 18" wide tunnel.

    Long House (Wetherill Mesa) involves climbing three 15-ft. ladders, and a 3/4 mile hike.

    Spruce House (see next tip) tours are only mandatory from early November to early March.

    The tours take about one hour to an hour and a half and cost $3.00 per person. Tickets can only be purchased at Far View Visitor Center (not at the sites!!!) except for Oct. 18 to Nov. 7 - purchase them at the Chapin Museum during those couple of weeks.

    As these are the most popular sites and are first-come, first-served, they recommend getting there early to purchase tickets and then seeing some of the overlooks, self-guided sites, or the museum at Chapin Mesa until time for your tour. During peak season, it's possible that you won't be able to get tickets to more than one site in a single day.

    For those unable to walk or climb, there is accessibility info for the overlooks at the Visitor Center, Chapin Mesa Museum, and all of the ranger stations. Park brochures indicate that wheelchairs may need assistance at these overlooks.

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    Stuff you can see without a guide

    by goodfish Updated Nov 20, 2011

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    Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde
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    While you need tickets and a guide to tour the three largest of the cliff dwellings, there are also plenty of things to see on your own.

    Spruce Tree House (Chapin Mesa) is not far from Balcony House and Cliff Palace so it's a great way to spend your time while waiting for a guided tour. It's a 100 ft. descent (1/2 mile round trip) on a paved path and takes about an hour. An NPS ranger will be on site for questions. This is only a self-guided site from early March to early November: during the winter, guided NPS tours are mandatory.

    Step House (Wetherill Mesa) is also a 100 ft descent and is about 3/4 mile, round trip. Badger House (Wetherill Mesa) is 1.5 miles, round trip.

    Mesa Top Loop Road (Chapin Mesa) is a 6-mile driving tour with 12 stops at easily accessible sites with paved trails.

    Hikers, there's a whole list of options available for those looking for the path less traveled.

    Best bet? Pull up the website to help you plan your trip, then make sure that your first stop is Far View Visitor Center for tickets, maps, permits, and detailed information.

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    Accessibility

    by Basaic Written Nov 8, 2011

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    Accessible Trail

    The rugged terrain here makes the dwellings inaccessible for those in wheelchairs or with other health issues. Many of the dwelling are visible though from accessible overlooks. Many facilities at the Far View Terrace and Visitors Center are accessible as are the Chapin Mesa Museum. For more information on accessible facilities at the park, inquire with the NPS Rangers.

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    Fire Temple

    by Basaic Written Nov 8, 2011

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    Fire Temple
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    The Fire Temple got its name from the large fire pit located in the lower complex. The pit is much larger than cooking pits and shows indications of frequent use due to the layers and layers of ash. This complex shows signs of extensive planning; but no signs of habitation. This combined with its symmetrical design indicates it was probably used by the entire community for ceremonial purposes. The alcove did not provide much area so there is another alcove just above it with more structures.

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    Oak Tree House

    by Basaic Written Nov 8, 2011

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    Oak Tree House
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    Here at Oak Tree House notice how the inhabitants attempted to make the best use of all available space. Floors of the alcoves were filled as needed to stabilize rooms and to provide work areas and a safe place for the children to play. Also note in Photo 2 how they built additional storage rooms on the ledge above

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    Sun Temple Closer Up

    by Basaic Written Nov 8, 2011

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    Sun Temple
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    About a mile from the Sun Temple Viewpoint you can actually see the temple close up. Construction of this “temple” appears to be much more carefully planned than most other buildings at Mesa Verde. Thee are no doors, no windows, or any signs that the building was designed for habitation. What was the purpose of the building? Was it a last attempt to please the Gods before having to abandon the area?

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    Cliff Dwellings Near Sun Temple

    by Basaic Written Nov 8, 2011

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    Cliff Dwellings
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    Although the people that lived in this area used the cliff alcoves during the entire time they lived here, they did not build the cliff dwellings until toward the end of their occupancy. The cliff dwellings in the Sun Temple area were built between 1200 and 1300 AD. Of the 4000 dwellings found in Mesa Verde only 400 are cliff dwellings. There is a large concentration of dwellings in this area, probably due to the presence of a natural spring at the head of the canyon offering a steady supply of water.

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    Sun Point

    by Basaic Written Nov 8, 2011

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    Sun Point Tower
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    The Sun Point Stop shows you the ruins of a village built during the latter stages of the Classic Pueblo Period of architecture. One characteristic of this period is the location of the tower and kiva inside the walls of the village.

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    Village Evolution

    by Basaic Written Nov 8, 2011

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    Excavated Villages

    Just outside the building where we saw the transitions from pithouse to pitroom to kiva and to attached rooms is a display where they show the later transition and evolution of the villages. There were three villages built on this site: The first in 900 AD; the second in 1000 AD and the last in 1075 AD. These villages have been carefully excavated to allow you to compare and contrast the similarities and differences in the development of the villages and their architecture.

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    Succesive Villages: Village Layout

    by Basaic Written Nov 8, 2011

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    Early Village Layout
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    Here you can see an early version of a pueblo village with rooms attached to one another. This was the final evolution of the earliest villages and pithouses prior to the main pueblo period type of villages and cliff dwellings.

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    Succesive Villages: Kiva

    by Basaic Written Nov 8, 2011

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    Kiva

    Kivas were formalized religious and ceremonial rooms with benches, a ventilation shaft, an air deflector, a fire pit, and a sipapu for access to the underworld. The pilasters (small columns on the benches) supported the roof supports.

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Mesa Verde National Park Things to Do

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