For those looking to delve into the history of the Cliff-Dwelling tribes and explore their housing evolution, Mesa Verde is the prime location to do so. Nestled in the Southwestern most part of Colorado, the park does receive its fair share of weather, however with proper planning you can still visit the park and have a wonderful experience no matter the time of year.
Ideal visitation for those wanting to explore the entirety of the park is between the months of May and September. During this portion of the year the weather permits you to drive along all of the scenic byways, take advantage of the hiking trails and have access to tours. Beyond these months you will find that Wetherill Mesa is officially closed for the season.
So you might be asking yourself, “What is Wetherill Mesa and what would I miss by not going there?”
Wetherill Mesa is a 12 mile driving loop which culminates its scenic overlooks and viewpoints at a kiosk which allows you access to the Long House Loop, one of the parks most iconic areas for those wanting to have a bit of a closer look at the cultural remains of tribes.
This loop is a paved trail ideal for biking or walking and allows you access to the Long House, Step House, Badger House Community and additionally a Nordensklold trail.
These areas each have unique features and many have self guided tours which you can take to dig a little deeper into the history with pit houses, cliff dwellings, alcoves and other points of interest.
The Long House is the home to one of the Ranger tours which are offered at the park. Tickets are required for the Ranger tours and I do recommend purchasing in advance of your visit when possible.
Additionally, visiting during non-peak months does limit your access to the cliff dwellings themselves. Ranger led tours ensure protection and preservation of sites, thus individual exploration is not permitted. These tours are held during peak months only, in large part due to safety on narrow passes, stairs and other obstacles which can become unsafe.
Though tours are a massive part of the park’s unique offerings of insight about the native people which settled in this area, there are other ways you can explore the park beyond these tours.
A ride along one of the driving loops will offer you a glimpse at many of the structures and points of interests on the property including Puebloan structures, kivas, Cliff Dwellings and petroglyphs. In these areas self-guided tours are abundant.
While this might sound a bit odd, especially considering you are wanting to learn more and might not have all the answers yourself, the park offers tour guide booklets at the visitor center, museum and also at many of the stops for your self guided tour needs.
These booklets are pretty substantial in detail each 20 pages or more. Details included in the booklets are concise and paint the true history of the villages, worship areas and people which once inhabited the Mesa Verde area.
Year-round the Chapin Mesa is open with locations such as the Archeological Museum, Spruce Tree House, Mesa Top Loop, Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Far View Sites and Spruce Canyon Trails. While Balcony House and Cliff Palace do require permits for Ranger tours, there are view points for those unable to secure one of these permits during busy season or when tours are not offered.
The Far View Sites are perhaps the most up close and personal sites you will find at the park where you can walk right beside the ruins of some of the impressive villages. This mesa-top village was considered a farming village which sustained life by learning how to work the land, store water, cultivate crops and build in a sustainable way which would long surpass their own time in the villages. This area offers a walking trail which weaves in and out of village structures, shares petroglyphs and gives a first glance at how the villages evolved from this style of structure to cliff dwelling style structures.
Mesa Loop delves deeper into the Puebloan architectural development over a 600 year span. Much like Far View, this area helps to paint the full picture of how ideas for home construction, storage and other buildings began to evolve with changing circumstances.
Throughout the year, the Chapin Mesa allows access unmatched by other parks. It is iconic to visit the Mesa Verde area and wether looking from afar or touring throughout you leave the park feeling like you have peered back into history and been a fly on the wall of a culture which paved the way for others in so many ways.