A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mesa Verde National Park is located in the southwest corner of Colorado. Characterized by a wide variety of ancient cliffside cave dwellings and desert landscapes, this fascinating archeological site makes Mesa Verde one of the country’s most unique national parks.
The Ancestral Puebloans were an ancient Native American group that inhabited the Mesa Verde area 1,400 years ago. These people carved their homes into the mesas, creating the cave dwellings that can be seen today.
Initially, this group created their homes in pits in the ground with wooden roofs along the mesa tops. As time went on, the Ancestral Puebloans became more advanced, and so did their dwellings. The original carved out pithomes became kivas, or ceremonial rooms, while more complex dwellings were built atop the mesas, creating villages. The name Mesa Verde means “green table” in Spanish, which references the lush vegetation that covers the tops of the region’s mesas which these native peoples inhabited.
At around 1200 CE, the Ancestral Puebloans became even more complex as a civilization, and began to use the cliffside overhangs as roofs and carved out a network of homes with multiple stories. However, their stay in these organized cities was short lived, as they migrated south to Arizona and New Mexico only 100 years later.
Mesa Verde National Park’s characteristic sandstone was created over 100 million years ago, when the area was covered by a shallow sea. This resulted in sand deposits combining with the sandstone layers that can be seen today. When the sea began to recede, the high plateau of Mesa Verde was created. Rivers and streams have cut through the region, forming the canyons between the mesas.
The elevation in Mesa Verde National Park ranges from 6,100 feet to 8,400 feet above sea level at the rim of the mesa’s flat top.