While it isn't really a danger, I should mention that the climate on the mesas can be anything but predictable. I have talked to other travelers who sweat buckets on their trips, but we nearly froze to death - in August. Temperatures one day were in the 30's with frequent rounds of rain, wind and hail. Go figure. Anyway, have several layers at hand should things get interesting, and also bring sunscreen and a hat for hot, sunny days.
Good, sturdy shoes are a must - you don't want to be crawling up ladders in flimsy sandals or heels.
Mesa Verde is at 7000 ft. so lowlanders might feel the altitude a bit on the longer trails. Take your time, drink lots of water, and rest a bit (not ON the ruins, please) if feeling a tad tuckered.
Mesa Verde’s cave dwellings are carved out of sheer rock in the deep canyons that cut through the mesa from the south. The approach though is from the north which makes it compulsory to reach the summit of the mesa first and than climb down to reach the caves. This fact could present the visitor with an interesting weather phenomenon in April at least. Due to the altitude and volatile movements of the air mass, the summit could be entangled in snow–producing clouds while the cave themselves cuddle in the safety of the canyons at lower level. As a result, one might wake up in a lodge with the name “Far View” seeing no more than a couple of meters ahead and instead of the green infinity of the horizon could be marooned in white fog! The trick is not to lose faith, go to the ticket booth, buy the necessary tickets and embark on a journey that is going to be memorable because chances are that there would be no snow at the caves at all and even the clouds will be saying goodbye to you and the region by noon.
I am never one to discourage a person and if you think you can overcome your fear of heights, then I encourage you to try one of the ranger-led tours even though they do involve climbing some fairly big ladders. Speak with the rangers selling the tickets and they will give you a very good idea of what to expect and also let you know which tour might be a little easier than the next. We consider ourselves to have issues with heights but we've done a fair amount of exposed hiking and have overcome some of it. We had no problem with either tour. Cliff Palace has more ladders but Balcony House has the one really big one. One thing that is good is it's right int the beginning so once you get it out of the way, it's smooth sailing.
If you are out of shape and not very mobile you might want to reconsider as not only are the ladders a challenge, you'll be crawling around through tunnels on some of the tours. Again, ask the rangers selling the tickets for their advice.
In general, don't look down. It sounds simple but that's what freaks a lot of people out. Keep your eyes focused on the rungs and you'll be fine.
One of the interesting things we learned on the guided tour to the Cliff Palace was that the steps that were carved into the stone were much smaller and deeper than they were supposed to be. The story behind this is that when the steps were being erected, they were done by teenagers and early 20 year olds who were working for $1/day during the depression in the Conservation Corps. Essentially, the supervisor would tell them what was needed for the day, and then leave them to tend to other people. When the supervisor was away, some of the kids made deeper shorter steps to have less work to do. The result makes for some treacherous climbing, so make sure you hold on to the sides as you walk down the steps.
Make sure to watch where you are going when you are travelling with children to Mesa Verde National Park. There are several spots where the scenic overlooks are treacherous, and you can not count on the safety screens and nets that are set up to be a parent for you. We were lucky to have two people watching Anna the whole time, and most of the time we kept her up in a baby backpack. It was amazing to see how devisive she could be when she wanted to get over, around or through one of the safety screens.
Well, I have to admit, I am a very bad parent. OK, not as bad as some, but I definitely learned a lesson in the Mesa Verde National Park. Sarah and I both got distracted while enjoying one of the new discoveries in the park, and were both intently looking at a well perserved kiva, when we turned around to find Anna head first diving into the dirt. We both were very thankful that the fall was only about a foot down, but the dirt obviously did not taste good either way.
Just remember, not every exhibit is completely child proof.
Dear drivers, please, drive slowly and with caution. Mesa Verde not only a park of cliff dwellings and pithouses, but also is a place for many wild animals, that are persistent in crossing roads in the most unexpected places.
I usually like to travel in October when the weather is cooler.
I can't remember drinking so much water in two weeks, when we got here in July 2003.
So avoid headstroke or dehydration drink a lot of liquids if your traveling in the summertime!
In 2002 a forest fire reduced a lot of the vegetation of Mesa Verde.
We saw lots of carbonised trees.
During Summer It's a very dry and extremely hot country indeed.
And even when we were there we saw fires. Firemen were omnipresent and in the visitor's center, the shop, the restaurant Smokey Bear is doing what he can to prevent new fires.
There was a massive fire in Mesa Verde a few years ago. The scars from that fire was quite evident when I visited there. Keep in mind that it is a desert area and is vulnerable during the fire season.
Elevations in the park vary from 6,000 to 8,500 feet. Trails may be uneven and frequent steps and ladders must be climbed.
Most of the mjor cliff dwellings can be seen from overlooks.
Children should be watched near the canyon rims.
Forest fires are a very real danger out here in the Western United States. They burn thousands of acres of our timber resources every year, take the lives of firefighters, and cost local economies millions of dollars in lost tourist revenue. From May until September they can ruin your plans for a vacation out here. Several times in the past few years Mesa Verde National Park has been closed due to forest fires within the park. Keep updated before your stay about where the fires are in the Western US - depending on drought conditions the area of high risk varies from region to region and year to year. This area has been under the effects of a long term drought that may be cyclical. If the same pattern happened long ago it could be a reason that the Anasazi left this area hundreds of years ago.
Be cautious when descending a ladder into one of the dusty kivas. While true that the descent is only a matter of seven or eight steps, if you have breathing problems you might want to reconsider. Once you get down, your next object will generally be to get back up the ladder, breathing problems or not. Everyone enjoys getting a closer look at these small, dusty chambers, but once you arrive, the crowded confines and the swirling dust argue that there is nothing else to see.
Many of the paths are steep sets of stairs or even just rustic ladders. Small children or adults who are badly out-of-shape or have health problems will tire easily. The photo below shows one of the easier flights of steps. As in any outdoor activity in the southwestern USA, particularly in summer, be certain to take plenty of bottled water, a hat for shade and dress appropriately.