Mesa Verde National Park Things to Do

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

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    Museum Visit

    by painterdave Written Oct 4, 2010

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    Light My Fire!
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    The museum at Mesa Verde is very information. They have a lot of exhibits and there is also a 20 minute film which describes the discovery of the dwellings and about the people who lived here. If you come to Mesa Verde you MUST visit the museum.
    There is also a restaurant across the street, bathrooms, and water fountains. Parking for cars is close and for larger vehicles you MUST park where the signs designate. You might get a citation if parked in the wrong place.
    Photos below show some of the different exhbits.

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    Take at least a whole day

    by painterdave Updated Feb 20, 2010

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    You can go take a peek inside
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    There are several sites of dwelling in the canyons and also on top of the mesa. You will not want to be in a hurry, so plan at least one whole day for you visit. Don't miss the museum and visitor's center. There are many chances to stop for photos along the way, so take advantage of those.
    There is a campground for campers, and the rangers plan activities at night for families where they give talks about animal life, the history of Mesa Verde and other topics of interest.
    You will find a restaurant for food if you haven't brought a picnic lunch. In the summer carry a water bottle, watch out for rattlesnakes along the trail.
    Sunset photo ops can be terrific.
    During the winter after a snowfall your camera will be busy. It is beautiful at that time with the colors of the rocks, the pine trees and the snow.
    The last photo shows a kiva where religious ceremonies were held. This was also a "men only" gathering place.

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    Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

    by richiecdisc Updated Jul 29, 2009

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    great displays help give life to cliff dwellers

    The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum is one of the park's features that sets it apart from other Native American site based parks. Even from the exterior, it is special in its adobe-like architecture which fits effortlessly into the terrain. Along with the typical dioramas depicting pueblo life for the Anasazi, there are well-preserved examples of their impressive craftsmanship from pottery to clothing to weapons. Of particular interest was a great display on uses of things found in nature for medicinal purposes.

    Be sure to catch the twenty-five minute movie which offers a great overview of the park and runs every half hour. Ranger-led tours of Spruce Tree House are free and run three times per day in the winter months. At other times of the year, it it is a self-guided walk and pamphlets are available here for the nominal charge of fifty cents.

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    Cliff Palace Tour

    by richiecdisc Updated Jul 29, 2009

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    walking around Cliff Palace

    We decided to do the Cliff Palace ranger-led on the last tour of the afternoon to maximize the low light and get the best photos. While Cliff Palace is not quite as adventurous a tour as Balcony House, there are still quite a few ladders to contend with so if fearful of heights, reconsider.

    The quarter mile walk involves climbing five 10 foot ladders over the course of a 100 foot climb. This can also be tiring at this elevation. The tour runs about an hour and the rangers are quite knowledgeable about the Anasazi who built the dwellings as well as giving great insight into life at that time. It is an entertaining hour that goes by quickly unless of course you are afraid of ladders!

    The tours leave from the Cliff Palace parking area which is on the Cliff Palace Loop off the Chapin Mesa drive. Tickets are $3 per person and must be bought in advance at the Far View visitor center. It is approximately an eight-mile, twenty minute drive from there to the parking area.

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    ranger-led tours are great value

    by richiecdisc Updated Jul 29, 2009

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    Balcony House is best early in the morning

    Ranger-led tours offer more adventurous visitors a closer look at the amazing intricacy of the cliff dwellings. For a nominal charge of $3 per person, you are in for not only an educational walk but a fun-filled hour of moving around in the sites much as the original inhabitants did. It gives you an appreciation for how hard life must have been. The tours must be reserved and tickets can be purchased at the Far View Visitor Center which is at the fork of the Chapin Mesa and Wetherill Mesa roads.

    Be forewarned that the hikes, while relatively short, involve some maneuvering and the climbing of steep ladders that leave you completely exposed. If fearful of heights, you might want to reconsider but if you feel you can do it, by all means give it a try. While taking photos from the viewpoints is fine, you don't really get a feel for the sites without being in them.

    The rangers are knowledgeable and some are quite funny. One thing to note, is there are only so many tours per day and if you want to be in each site at the best time, please reserve. We sorted out that we wanted to do Balcony House early morning and Cliff Place late afternoon so booked the first tour of the former and last tour of the latter for our second day in the park.

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    Spruce Tree House Self-Guided Walk

    by richiecdisc Updated Jul 29, 2009

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    Spruce Tree House is worth the walk

    Spruce Tree House is the only cliff dwelling you can visit on your own and that is only during the main summer months. In winter, this is the only ranger-led tour available and you are brought into the park's best preserved ruin. It goes out three times per day and is free.

    During the main season from early March to early November, tours are unnecessary and can be done self-guided. The park provides very informative pamphlets on the dwelling which can be purchased at the trail head for a very fair price of 50 cents. If you are not doing any of the other tours, by all means, grab one as it will give you a better understanding of what you are seeing.

    The self-guided tour begins at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. Though the walk is only a half mile, the initial drop is 100 feet which you will have to climb back out of on your return. Allow 45 minutes to an hour to properly explore the ruins and enjoy the informative pamphlet. You can also return via the Spruce Canyon Trail which adds a couple miles to the walk but allows you to see some of the natural terrain that the cliff dwellers lived in. It will also get you away from the crowds as hardly anyone seems to take it.

    These sites are largely untouched and remain very much as they were 800 years ago. Not only is Spruce Tree House the best preserved but it is the third largest in all of Mesa Verde. It contains about 114 rooms and eight kivas or ceremonial chambers. Set in a 200 foot long cave, the multi-tiered dwelling was built around the year 1200 by the Anasazi and it is believed to have housed about 100 people.

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    Square Tower Overlook

    by richiecdisc Updated Jul 29, 2009

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    Square Tower late afternoon from overlook

    The Square Tower Overlook was one of our favorites. This was again very well-situated for late afternoon photography, with the sun's ray hitting it perfectly as it goes down. The 500 foot trail off the Mesa Top Loop is well worth the minimal effort. This ruin is one of the more interesting as it has a four-story tower in very good shape and supported by the back wall of the cave. It looks a bit like a high-rise with windows and was from the latter period of habitation, representing the final stage of development in Mesa Verde between A.D. 1200-1300.

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    Balcony House Tour

    by richiecdisc Written Jul 28, 2009

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    it really is worth all the ladders

    The ranger-led tour of Balcony House is one of the park's true highlights These are not long walks but do involve some maneuvering so should only be considered by those who are fairly limber. Your first test will be a 32 foot ladder that gets you into the complex. There is also a 12 foot tunnel to crawl through and the finale is a 60 foot open rock face climb which utilizes two 10 foot ladders to get back out of the site. It's all great fun but perhaps not best for those with an extreme fear of heights.

    The Balcony House while not as extensive as some of the other sites is particularly scenic, especially if the tour is done early morning when the sun is shinning into the cave. Rangers provide not only a great informative talk on the ruin but relay a true feeling for how the inhabitants of the dwellings lived. They are enthusiastic and provide a fun atmosphere for doing what can be a challenging walk for many.

    The price is $3 per person and tickets must be bought at the Far View Visitor Center. It will take about a half-hour to drive the ten miles from there to the Balcony House parking area which is on the one-way Cliff Palace Loop part of the Chapin Mesa Road.

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    Cliff Palace Overlook

    by richiecdisc Written Jul 28, 2009

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    Cliff Palace late afternoon from overlook

    My favorite overlook was the one for Cliff palace. This particular ruin is well-situated for late afternoon sun and none of the structure is in shade at that time. You will need a good zoom lens to get a decent close-up shot of Cliff Palace but the orientation is perfect and it will look like you were right in front of it. Even sans zoom, you can get great shots that give perspective to the dwellings with regard to the caves they were built into.

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    a car friendly park

    by richiecdisc Written Jul 28, 2009

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    Balcony House from the overlook with zoom

    Mesa Verde is a park that can be explored entirely by car if one so desires. The park's main road is scenic and forks into the Chapin and Wetherill Mesa roads. The latter is much less visited, having less sites and facilities. Chapin Mesa is where the park's main features are located. There are two loops branching off this one: Mesa Top Loop and Cliff Palace Loop, both of which are one-way. This is where you will find the Chapin Mesa Museum, Spruce Tree House, Cliff Palace and Balcony House. The dwellings are quite visible from well-placed viewpoints though to get a good photo, you will need a fair telephoto lens. In fact, you can get perhaps your best photos from these viewpoints at the appropriate times with regard to when the sun is shining on them.

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    Ghosts of the Anasazi - Mesa Verde

    by razorbacker Written Jun 3, 2009

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    Cliff Palace ruins, Mesa Verde.
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    A great place to explore.
    Living in Cortez 10 years, it fell to me to be the tour guide for EVERYONE who visited from out of town...and there were a LOT!
    So I know the Park pretty well. Still, I only managed to scrape the surface.

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    First Stop - Far View Visitors Center

    by ATXtraveler Written Apr 24, 2009

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    In my opinion, the very first thing you should do when you enter the park is head to the visitors center. The main reason that I recommend this stop is that it is the only place for you to purchase the tickets for the guided tours, which can fill up fast, and you may not get your first choice of times for each tour. When we arrived, we were able to grab a 10:30 tour, but had we come in just 5 minutes later, we would have had to wait for the 12:30. This was during the off peak time, so I can only imagine how tough it would be to wait 3 or 4 hours past when you had scheduled to be there.

    I know this may sound tough to do, but leave some of the scenic outlook turnouts that you see on the way in until you are driving out, that way you can get the tours you want earlier in the day.

    Hours
    Open: Mid-April to mid-October, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
    Closed: Mid-October to mid-April

    * After the Far View Visitor Center closes in October, Cliff Palace tour tickets must be purchased at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.

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    Cliff Palace Guided Tour

    by ATXtraveler Written Apr 24, 2009

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    Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park

    During the summer months (End of May to late September), there are three different guided tours that you can take. Since we were here in April, our only option for guided tours was the "Cliff Palace", so we took the offer. This tour is also the easiest in terms of skill needed to navigate down stairs and up ladders. To be able to enjoy this, you have to be able to climb at least 4 different sets of ladders, each no more than 10 ft. tall.

    The Cliff Palace is really an incredible experience. Our tour guide, Jo, took us through the life and times of the early inhabitants of this beautiful structure. One of the things that Jo mentioned to us is that the story told is really meant to be passed on through verbal medium only, so there were no video or recording devices allowed while she was talking. She had plenty of opportunity to speak with elder native people to gain their perspective on this cliff dwelling and she did a great job of passing that information on to us.

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    Balcony House Tour

    by KiKitC Updated Apr 12, 2008

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    Balcony House
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    A $3.00 guided tour is required to gain access to the Balcony House. From Mesa Top Ruin Road, it isn't visible, as it is snuggled in the cliff below you. The Balcony House is believed to have been inhabited much later than som eof the other ruins, and it's claim to fame may have been a strong spring that provided ample water to its residents. The stream was so plentiful, the park system actually has redirected it away from the dwelling, as the underwater spring was eating away at the foundation. This was in an effort to preserve what was stillt here.

    There is evidence however, that the structure changed dramatically towards the end of it's inhabitation. Getting down to the dwelling, one is immediately faced with a wall that was put up blocking good entrance to the rest of the dwelling. The distinct outline of a doorway and large windows being bricked up stare right at you. The only way in is through a 12 foot tunnel, that even a child would have to crawl to get through. This would easily allow anyone protecting the site to be able to strike whoever came through easily and effectively.

    Was this bricked up entrance for protection...or was this a stronghold for the precious water source?

    Wanna get back up to the mesa top? Don't worry. You do not have to climb up the cliff wall with your fingertips, as the original inhabitants obviously did. There is now a 32 foot ladder to climb up. It shakes, it's high up...just don't look down...

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    House of Many Windows

    by KiKitC Written Mar 8, 2008

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    House of Many Windows
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    From the Mesa Top Loop Road, just past the parking area for the Balcony House, is a great view point for the House of Many Windows. This cliff dwelling sits on a ten-foot wide cliff across the canyon. The "windows" of this multi-room dwelling were more probably doors. There is a toehold trail that leads to the dwelling (so the park says) that the inhabitants would have used to get up and down to the alcove.

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