Ancient Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park

by Christy on

Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park

The cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park in southern Colorado were unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.  These buildings were constructed from sandstone by ancient Puebloan (also known as Anasazi) communities, who opted to build under the overhanging cliffs for added protection.

Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park

Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park

The Puebloans lived here 1,400 years ago (that’s around 700 CE!) and stayed for hundreds of years before eventually building these elaborate stone communities in the alcoves of Mesa Verde’s canyon walls.

Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park

Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park

The communities grew crops and hunted game on the mesa tops, which they reached by hand-and-toe-hold trails pecked into the canyon walls.  We found it remarkable (well, remarkably scary!) that they chiseled toe-holds into the stone so they could climb up the rock face as part of their daily commute.

In the two photos below you can see remnants of these trails still visible in the sandstone (although in this specific location it’s likely that they also had a simple ladder in place, as well).

Oak Tree House at Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

Stone Ladder at Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

Canyon at Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

Beginning in late April and continuing throughout the summer and into the fall, visitors can explore all of the cliff dwellings and go on ranger-led tours into the most popular areas, including the Cliff Palace.  However, because of the time of year we visited (early April), park activities were fairly restricted.  Despite not being able to tour the palace, thought, we did get to see an awesome view of it from the Mesa Top Loop overlook.

Can you spot the Cliff Palace in this photo?

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

The Spruce Tree House, the only dwelling open for exploration (in this case, via a self-guided tour), was accessible via a short hike from the museum.  You couldn’t really walk through the dwellings themselves, but that wasn’t necessary to get a sense of what a phenomenal feat it would have been to build these apartment-sized buildings nearly a thousand years ago.

WOW.

Spruce Tree House Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park

Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National ParkCliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National ParkCliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National ParkCliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National ParkCliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Amahl April 12, 2011 at

Wow.
The pictures reminded me of the book that I read, ‘The Host’. This is the place that I was imagining when I was reading it.

Such a shame you weren’t able to get through. I wonder how they look inside. :)
Very nice

Reply

Christy April 12, 2011 at

It would have been awesome to explore more of the dwellings inside, but it just wasn’t meant to be. :) At the Spruce Tree House we couldn’t walk inside the actual dwellings (to keep them preserved) but we could see in pretty well – looked a lot like the outside!

Reply

Scott - Ordinary Traveler April 12, 2011 at

WOW! Colorado has been off my radar for so long, I forgot about all the beautiful places that are there. These dwelling built into the mountainside look totally amazing. Btw I think your pics are totally sweet don’t put yourself down.
Scott – Ordinary Traveler recently posted: The Forgotten Coast – Central California 9

Reply

Christy April 12, 2011 at

It was really neat seeing how the dwellings became an extension of the cliffs – they were just so connected. And thanks for the compliment; I was trying not to be too presumptuous, lol. :P

Reply

Cathy Sweeneytwitter: TravelingWithS April 12, 2011 at

I visited Mesa Verde as a teenager with my family (so it’s quite a while ago). It’s a fantastic place and I love how you captured so much of them up close in your photos.
Cathy Sweeney recently posted: The Cloisters- Medieval Manhattan

Reply

Christy April 12, 2011 at

Mesa Verde was actually recommended to us by a friend who remembered it from her family’s roadtrips when she was a kid. It’s definitely the type of place you don’t forget!

Reply

Sheril Benedict April 12, 2011 at

wow Pic looks great and thx for sharing this post !!
Sheril Benedict recently posted: Wudang Mountains

Reply

Christy April 12, 2011 at

Thanks, Sheril.

Reply

Roytwitter: cruisesurfing April 12, 2011 at

Wow, what a phenomenal feat. I had know idea these kind of ruins existed in USA…
Roy recently posted: No Hugs For You

Reply

Christy April 12, 2011 at

Same here… I can’t believe more people don’t know about them!

Reply

Cam @ Traveling Canuckstwitter: travelcanucks April 12, 2011 at

Wow – I didn’t even know this place existed! Incredible
Cam @ Traveling Canucks recently posted: Pictures of Machu Picchu- the Lost Incan City in Peru

Reply

Christy April 12, 2011 at

We were the same, Cam. It’s funny how some national parks are so popular and well known, and others are practically hidden secrets.

Reply

jill- Jack and JIll Traveltwitter: jacknjilltravel April 12, 2011 at

Mesa Verde was a really pleasant surprise for us. The whole Southwest area was simply jam packed with gems such as this – which by itself anywhere else would be world famous, but to be within driving distance from other well known parks tend to be dismissed.

I’m so jealous you guys got to be driving through this area right now. Last time we were there was ages ago (aka 6 years). Definitely time to go back.
jill- Jack and JIll Travel recently posted: An Ode to the Murdered Nevada Shoe Tree

Reply

Christy April 13, 2011 at

I think you’re completely right, Jill – even the most incredible national park can get forgotten in the Southwest (a place of so many incredible national parks that it almost seems overwhelming).

Reply

The Dropout April 12, 2011 at

What an amazing relic. I cannot imagine scurrying up and down those cliff faces, though. I wonder how many people fell off.
Thanks for the amazing insight into a place I’d never heard of.
The Dropout recently posted: Celebrity Chef- Baby Shoes And Chicken Rice

Reply

Christy April 13, 2011 at

We were wondering the same thing! I’m sure adults who had been climbing the rock face for years were pretty good, but everyone has to start somewhere. At what age did the kiddos start climbing? I would be so terrified they’d slip to their rocky death.

Reply

Anne McKinnell April 13, 2011 at

Hi! I’m so glad to have found your blog since I about to embark on a very similar adventure. My husband and I and our 2 beagles are heading out on a year long trip with the goal of visiting as many of the US national parks as possible. We’re both techno-types too. We bought a 5th wheel, which we are picking up in a couple of weeks and leaving at the beginning of June. I’m really looking forward to being able to keep up with you on your blog.
Anne.
Anne McKinnell recently posted: Boxes- lovely boxes!!

Reply

Christy April 13, 2011 at

Yay, that sounds so exciting Anne! I’m glad you found our blog, and I’ll be sure to follow along as you explore all the US national parks. At the beginning of our trip we really didn’t visit any; there were a lot more cities on our itinerary. I guess we’re making up for that in the SW, though…. and it looks like we can see some of them vicariously through you guys now, too. :)

Reply

Nina April 13, 2011 at

What a fabulous spot! We’re definitely re-routing our trip North to stop here. Nina
Nina recently posted: SP Campground Review – Davis Mountains State Park- Fort Davis- TX

Reply

Christy April 13, 2011 at

Definitely worth a re-route. :)

Reply

Scott - Quirky Travel Guytwitter: quirkytravelguy April 13, 2011 at

That is really remarkable. Now it’s on my to-do list.

Reply

Christy April 13, 2011 at

Awesome, Scott – I like to-do lists that include these kinds of fun things. ;)

Reply

jamie - cloud people adventurestwitter: thecloud_people April 13, 2011 at

yet another amazing place i had never heard of. just cant imagine deciding to embark on a construction project of that magnitude. and wow what a commute! great pics too.
jamie – cloud people adventures recently posted: Hike at Wilsons Promontory

Reply

Christy April 13, 2011 at

Not only a huge construction project, but a dangerous one too! Where’s a scaffold when you need one? :P

Reply

Jilliantwitter: ishouldlogoff April 13, 2011 at

Being from the East Coast means I miss all these wonderful places out West as a kid. We did some epic road trips, but never as far as Colorado. Danny and I dream of loading up our bikes and spending a month exploring the state. We’ve hit a few places in the SW, mainly around the Grand Canyon, but places like this are high on the “explore our own country” better list!
Jillian recently posted: Barefoot Running

Reply

Christy April 13, 2011 at

A month-long Colorado bike trip sounds like a blast… but it would be intense with all those mountains! And even though we both grew up on the West Coast, this is our first time to the SW. There’s just so much of our country to explore. :)

Reply

Leightwitter: hikebiketravel April 13, 2011 at

We visited years ago with our kids. Your great photos (once again) brought back wonderful memories.

Reply

Christy April 13, 2011 at

Thanks, Leigh!

Reply

Jeremy Btwitter: budgettravelsac April 13, 2011 at

Wow, that’s amazing! So cool to see those cliff dwellings. And starting this Saturday, you can see them for free! :) Although you declared in US National Parks Month, next week is National Parks Week so the government helped you out a little!
Jeremy B recently posted: National Parks Week – Thank you John Muir

Reply

Christy April 13, 2011 at

Haha, that’s true – I saw your post on that right after I published this. Too bad we already have an annual national park pass… we could fit a lot of free national parks into a week!

Reply

The NVR Guystwitter: NVRguys April 13, 2011 at

Fascinating! We are National Park nerds to the core, and have had this on our list for some time. So many parks (thanks goodness) and so little time.
The NVR Guys recently posted: Travelogue – conducting a B&B showdown in Provincetown

Reply

Christy April 13, 2011 at

Ha, I love how you describe yourselves as National Park nerds. :)

Reply

davidtwitter: imheadingout April 13, 2011 at

Mesa Verde is such a cool place! My partner and I got to see the cliff dwellings on a quick road trip we did about five years ago. We actually were there in April too, which we liked since it wasn’t very crowded. I was looking at your travel map, are you going to get down to Arizona at all? Canyon de Chelly was another place that I loved. If you have the chance, check it out. It’s just east of Chinle.
david recently posted: I Love My Underpants!

Reply

Christy April 13, 2011 at

Mesa Verde wasn’t very crowded for us either, which was SO nice. It was a bummer having some things closed, but we were okay with the trade-off. :P

Yep, Arizona is on our list! After we leave Moab we’re heading west to Bryce Canyon and Zion, and then driving down from there to Phoenix. I looked up Canyon de Chelly and it looks really neat; not sure if we’ll fit it in as it’s a bit out of the way, but if we have extra time I’ll definitely add it to our itinerary. Thanks so much for the suggestion! :)

Reply

Ayngelina April 14, 2011 at

Mesa Verde looks incredible. I’m constantly amazed by what we have in North America that we know so little about.
Ayngelina recently posted: Photography makes us crazy

Reply

Christy April 14, 2011 at

I agree…. now I can’t stop wondering what else that’s out there that we don’t even know about! Probably a lot. :)

Reply

Laureltwitter: ExpatGermany April 14, 2011 at

I’ve never seen anything like Mesa Verde, spectacular! And your photos do appear to be doing it justice :)
Laurel recently posted: Wild Pacific Trail Photo

Reply

Eileen Ludwigtwitter: eileenludwig April 14, 2011 at

Mesa Verde is one of the many wonderful National Parks . It is very fascinating. Thanks for stopping by @eileenludwig
Eileen Ludwig recently posted: Cirque Du Soleil La Nouba Orlando Florida Walt Disney World Downtown Disney

Reply

Christy April 14, 2011 at

Hi Eileen, I agree – Mesa Verde is one of the more fascinating national parks we’ve been to. Cheers!

Reply

Sonya April 14, 2011 at

Spectacular photo essay! I really loved your RV Travel with Pets post. I just included your blog in my 10 Digital Nomad Blogs You’ll Love.
Sonya recently posted: 10 Digital Nomad Blogs You’ll Love

Reply

Christy April 15, 2011 at

Thanks! We’re honored to be included. :D

Reply

crazy sexy fun traveler April 14, 2011 at

Such an interesting place! Great photos :)

Reply

Lauren April 15, 2011 at

Wow, incredible photos and what a feat to have built something like that! I love how in the first few pictures you really don’t get an idea of size, and they look like miniature buildings, and then when you see them to scale with people you realise just how big they really are! I would love to go here someday! :)
Lauren recently posted: Photo Essay- Embracing the Aloha Spirit at a Luau in Hawaii

Reply

Christy April 15, 2011 at

It’s so hard to get a sense of the scale through photos… and in this case it was especially difficult since we were a long distance away from most of the dwellings. They look so tiny, and then when you walk around them they’re huge!

Reply

Shaun April 22, 2011 at

That looks amazing! Erica and I went to the Gila cliff dwellings in New Mexico on our way to Burning Man last year and it was phenomenal. We were lucky enough to be there completely by ourselves, except for the guide who took us through the buildings. I didn’t know about the Mesa Verde dwellings, we’ll have to add them to our list!

Reply

Christy April 23, 2011 at

We heard about the Gila cliff dwellings and almost went there, but a friend told us Mesa Verde was so amazing we couldn’t miss it. They were really awesome, though, so I wouldn’t mind seeing as many as possible! It’s really cool there are multiple sites where the dwellings have been preserved so well.

Reply

Sarah November 18, 2011 at

Christy,
Are these photos copyrighted? I’m writing a paper on these ruins and need some photos for it.

Reply

Christy November 19, 2011 at

Just sent you an email, Sarah!

Reply

49 Comments. Join the conversation!

Enable CommentLuv (add link to your most recent blog post after your comment)

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: