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.

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Mesa Verde National Park

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