Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwest Colorado. The Park is known for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. The cliff dwellings provide insight into the lives of the ancient people who once farmed on the mesa tops. After living on the mesa top for nearly 600 years, the Ancestral Puebloans began building dwellings beneath the impressive, overhanging cliffs. Petroglyphs that are left, offer further hints into their culture and way of life, which lasted in the dwellings for about 700 years. Today, Mesa Verde National Park protects the cultural heritage of 26 different tribes, and offers other visitors an amazing glimpse of history.
Our day started in the Wetherill Mesa area of the park, which embraces some of the park’s most impressive cliff dwellings. We had tickets for a ranger-guided tour of Long House. Long House is the park’s second-largest cliff dwelling, and about the same size as the Cliff Palace (the park’s most famous cliff dwelling). The village of Long House includes about 150 rooms and 21 kivas, and was thought to inhabit anywhere from 150-175 people. I learned that kivas were a place for extended family gatherings or ceremonies. However, Long House also has a large, ceremonial plaza, actually the only dwelling in the park known to have one. This was considered a public space, meaning for other people in the community, and not just for the people living at Long House. The ceremonial plaza could hold up to 100 people at a time.
The park ranger informed us that the Puebloan people most likely inhabited the cliff dwellings in the 1200s A.D., and likely moved down from the mesa tops due to water sources, temperature, and protection. The dwellings would keep cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. There is an area in Long House where water comes in from a spring, which is considered sacred today because it is water of the ancestors.
Overall, our guided tour was about 1.5 hours, and honestly, I loved every minute of it. I loved learning about the Ancestral Puebloan people and being able to see things firsthand while learning. After we finished the tour, we walked back to the main Wetherill area, and hiked down to Step House for a self-guided tour. This is the only cliff dwelling in the park that can be visited without a reservation. Step House was much smaller than Long House, most likely home to only 3-40 people. Two villages from different time periods inhabited Step House. The first occupied around 500-600s A.D., and then again in 1200 A.D.
After we finished at Step House, we ventured over to the other side of the park, diving the Mesa Top Loop Road. This road had several overlooks such as Navajo Canyon and Sun Point, which offered amazing views down into adjacent canyons of more cliff dwellings. We stopped at some different pit houses, which is where the Puebloans lived on the mesa tops, as well as the ceremonial Sun Temple.
However, the c h e r r y on top of an already amazing day, was seeing bears!! While we were driving from the Wetherill Mesa Rod to the Mesa Top Loop Road, we saw three bears cross in front of us. We were both shocked, as it didn’t even cross our minds to be on the lookout for bears in Mesa Verde. But, as our (good) luck would have it, a mom and two cubs crossed the road right in front of us. We got to watch the two cubs play in the grass on the side of the road, and then eventually see them walk up the mountain behind their mama. It was seriously one of the best & cutest bear experiences I’ve had in the national parks!