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Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
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Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

 

Photo by Alfredo De Simone

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Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, Colorado is cited by National Geographic as one of the top cultural spots in the United States. And there's a reason. Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, is home to one of the largest and best preserved Anasazi ruins in America. Cliff dwellings, elaborate stone communities built in sheltered alcoves, are the main attraction at this U.S. National Park. But they aren't the only. The ruins at Mesa Verde follow the Anasazi Indians from pithouse to pueblo and, in addition to weaving a story 700 years in the making, speak to a life both above and below the mesa top. So why take the kids? Mystery, ladders and intrigue.

Spread over 52,000 acres, Mesa Verde protects 4,000 known archaeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings. Yet a trip to this U.S. national park need not be overwhelming. The vast majority of sites are concentrated in two distinct areas: Chapin Mesa and Wetherill Mesa. If you plan your visit with care you'll avoid driving from end to end repeatedly. The Far View Visitor Center offers more than an update on park weather and roads. Unless you are staying at Morefield Campground, it is the only place to purchase tickets for ranger-guided cliff dwelling tours and learn about other programs and special events. Don't forget to pick up a Junior Ranger activity sheet, geared to kids aged 4 to 12, and engage the kids from start to finish. The Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and self-guided Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling are a great place to begin an adventure with kids. Not only do they provide an introduction to Anasazi life, they allow families to tour at their own pace. When planning the remainder of your visit consider the availability of ranger-guided tours as well as the age and interest of the tots, tweens and teens. Cliff Palace and Balcony House are the most popular ranger-guided cliff dwelling tours at Mesa Verde. Both are situated on Chapin Mesa and both require a good deal of climbing. The self-drive Mesa Top Loop Road, also on Chapin Mesa, follows the Anasazi from pithouse to pueblo. Wetherill Mesa is Mesa Verde in a nutshell. In addition to Long House, Mesa Verde's second largest cliff dwelling, this corner of the park boasts mesa top sites of note. And apart from getting there and getting away you don't need the car to get around.
Tourist Attractions in Mesa Verde
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Cliff Palace Loop Road

Mesa Verde National Park

Colorado 81330

BEST

  for

KIDS

Cliff Palace, on Chapin Mesa, is the most frequently visited Mesa Verde cliff dwelling. And there's a reason. With 150 rooms and 23 kivas it is the largest archaeological sit ...
  • Ancient Ruins
  • Interpretive Programs
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Ruins Road

Mesa Verde National Park

Colorado 81330

BEST

  for

KIDS

Spruce Tree House may not be Mesa Verde's largest cliff dwelling but it is the best preserved. Roughly 90% of this 114-room dwelling is original. Quite remarkable when you co ...
  • Ancient Ruins
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Wetherill Mesa Road

Mesa Verde National Park

Colorado 81330

BEST

  for

KIDS

The trek to Wetherill Mesa rewards intrepid families with more than just a peek at another cliff dwelling. It offers archaeological viewing in near solitude. Take the self-gu ...
  • Ancient Ruins
  • Interpretive Programs
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Ruins Road

Mesa Verde National Park

Colorado 81330

BEST

  for

KIDS

Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum is a great place to begin any tour of Mesa Verde. Not only do the exhibits provide an introduction Ancestral Puebloan life they provide many ...
  • Museum

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Mesa Top Loop Road

Mesa Verde National Park

Colorado 81330

BEST

  for

KIDS

Mesa Top Loop Road - a 6-mile (10km) driving tour with short, paved trails - follows the Ancestral Puebloans as they make their way from pithouse to pueblo in roughly 600 yea ...
  • Ancient Ruins
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