Established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, Mesa Verde National Park preserves one of the more significant and largest concentrations of archaeological sites in North America. It is here that the world-famous cliff dwellings, built by the ancient Ancestral Pueblo culture (also known as Anasazi) some 1,400 years ago, are located. The park encompasses over 80 square miles and features almost 5,000 known archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, the most famous of which are the Cliff Palace and Spruce Tree House village. The park's visitor and research center features a museum and archives. The museum's exhibits explore the life of the modern descendants of the Pueblo and feature works of art created by contemporary artists. The archives holds an impressive three million objects; visitors can actually see inside it through viewing portals. Visitors to the park can take guided tours, walk on hiking trails, and participate in the various programs offered. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


  • Cliff Palace
    Cliff Palace

The Pueblo people began to inhabit the area around 550 A.D. They are known as the basketweavers for their craftsmanship in making baskets. They formed villages consisting of pithouses (some also lived in cliff recesses) and began to make basic pottery; they also began to use the bow and arrow for hunting, which was an improvement of the atl-atl (spear thrower), and started to farm as well. Around 750 A.D., they began to build houses above ground using pole and adobe construction. The population increased. By 1000, the Pueblo started to use stone to build houses and other structures. Farming became more advanced and pottery became more elaborate (basket making declined as well).

Finally, in the 1200s the Pueblo reached their peak. It was during this time that they built the impressive cliff dwellings we see today. In the Spruce Tree House village complex, there are 129 rooms and 8 kivas (special rooms where rituals took place), and it is estimated that 60-90 people lived here. 

By 1300, the Pueblo deserted Mesa Verde and researchers are still unclear as to why. It is believed that drought and depleted resources played a large role. But without a written record, the exact reasons will perhaps never be known. 

The Pueblo developed an advanced culture. It is likely that society was stratified and matrilineal and that tasks (farming, pottery making, hunting, cooking, etc.) were specialized. The Pueblo were also connected to vast trade networks that stretched to the Pacific Coast and to the south. Archaeologists have discovered seashells that came from the Pacific and turquoise, cotton, and pottery from areas to the south. 

"Ancestral Pueblo People and Their World." National Park Service. Accessed March 22, 2015.  https://www.nps.gov/meve/learn/historyculture/upload/ancestral_pueblo_people_2018_508_01-24-18-2.pdf.

"History and Culture." National Park Service. Accessed March 22, 2015.  https://www.nps.gov/meve/learn/historyculture/index.htm.