Mesa Verde National Park is a U.S. National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Montezuma County, Colorado, United States. The park was created in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, to protect some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the world, or as he said, "preserve the works of man".
It occupies 81.4 square miles (211 km2) near the Four Corners and features numerous ruins of homes and villages built by the Ancestral Puebloan people, sometimes called the Anasazi. There are over 4,000 archaeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people at the site. The Anasazi inhabited Mesa Verde between AD 600 to 1300, though there is evidence they left before the turn of the century.
They were mainly subsistence farmers, growing crops on nearby mesas. Their primary crop was corn, the major part of their diet. Men were also hunters, which further increased their food supply. The women of the Anasazi are famous for their elegant basket weaving. Anasazi pottery is as famous as their baskets; their artifacts are highly prized. The Anasazi kept no written records.
The climate is semi-arid. Water for farming and consumption by the Ancient Pueblo Peoples was provided by summer rains, winter snowfall and seeps and springs in and near the Mesa Verde villages. The middle mesa areas, 10 degrees cooler than on the mesa at 7,000 feet (2,100 m), were ideal for agriculture, and the lower temperatures reduced the amount of water needed for agriculture.
The cliff dwellings were built with obvious attention to managing solar energy. In the winter, the angle of the sun warmed the masonry of the cliff dwellings, warm breezes blew from the valley, and the air was 10-20 degrees warmer in the canyon alcoves than on the top of the mesa.
Becoming A National Park
Virginia McClurg was diligent in her efforts between 1887 and 1906 to inform the United States and European community of the importance of protecting the important historical material and dwellings in Mesa Verde. Her efforts included enlisting support from 250,000 women through the Federation of Women's Clubs, writing and having published poems in popular magazines, giving speeches domestically and internationally, and forming the Colorado Cliff Dwellers Association.
The Colorado Cliff Dwellers' purpose was to protect the resources of Colorado cliff dwellings, reclaiming as much of the original artifacts as possible and sharing information about the people who dwelt there. A fellow activist for protection of Mesa Verde and prehistoric archaeological sites included Lucy Peabody, who, located in Washington, D.C.
Mesa Verde's park entrance is on U.S. Route 160, about 9 miles (14 km) east of the community of Cortez and about 7 miles (11 km) west of Mancos, Colorado. The park protects over 4,000 archaeological sites, including 600 separate cliff dwellings.
Of the park's 600 separate cliff dwellings, 230 of them have been assessed for damage, and may be repaired in the coming years. The Far View visitor center is 15 miles (24 km) from the entrance, and Chapin Mesa (the most popular area) is another 6 miles (9.7 km) beyond the visitor center.
Neighboring Ute Mountain Tribal Park
The Ute Mountain Tribal Park, adjoining Mesa Verde National Park to the east of the mountains, is approximately 125,000 acres (51,000 ha) along the Mancos River. Hundreds of surface sites, cliff dwellings, petroglyphs and wall paintings of Ancestral Puebloan and Ute cultures are preserved in the park. Native American Ute tour guides provide background information about the people, culture and history who lived in the park lands.
Culturally Modified Trees
In February 2008, the Colorado Historical Society decided to invest a part of its US$7 million budget into a culturally modified trees project in the National Park.