Mesa Verde and Hovenweep – Trail of the Ancients

Mesa Verde National Park

Located in southwestern section of Colorado or what is known as the Four Corners Region, Mesa Verde is home to North America’s largest cliff dwellings inhabited more than seven centuries ago.

Situated on a plateau high above Montezuma Valley between Cortez and Mancos Colorado, Mesa Verde was once home to ancient indigenous people known today as Ancestral Puebloans or ancestors of today’s Pueblo people. They lived in this region from around 550 AD to 1,300 AD with the belief that years of drought and depletion of resources were the cause of their exit to places farther south including Chaco Canyon.

Cliff Dwellings

The main attractions of Mesa Verde are the cliff dwellings with Cliff Palace, the largest of the group being the main star. Other dwellings worth visiting are nearby Balcony House, and Spruce Treehouse all on Chapin Mesa. Another large dwelling is Long House located on Wetherill Mesa that’s approximately 20 miles from Cliff Palace.

Not all dwellings are open and rarely, it seems these days, that all are open in the same season. Spruce Treehouse has been closed since 2015 due to a rock fall from above the ruins. It remains closed due to instability. However, you can view the dwelling from the back deck of the park headquarters and from a trail that leads visitors to a favorable viewing area. Prior to the rock fall visitors were allowed to walk through the dwelling and even climb down into a Kiva – “A kiva is a space used by Puebloans for rites and political meetings, many of them associated with the kachina belief system. Among the modern Hopi and most other Pueblo people, kivas are a large room that is circular and underground, and are used for spiritual ceremonies. Wikipedia.”

Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House are ranger lead guided tours that require a reservation and have a fee that’s around $11 – adult. All these ranger lead tours require climbing steps and ladders with some exposure in high places. Balcony House also includes crawling through a tight 12 ft crawl space that about two feet in diameter.

The Cliff Place loop road is closed until mid-July 2022, which means Cliff Palace and Balcony House will not be available until later in the summer. You can still get a good view of Cliff Palace from Sun Point and from the Sun Temple across a narrow canyon. (see map)

Pit Houses

Pit houses are located throughout the loop roads on the mesas.  Pit houses were on top of the mesa and were the main habitations prior to the inhabitants moving to the cliff dwellings below in the waning years of their lives in this area. Speculation is that they moved below mostly for protection from weather, heat, and cold. Our favorites are Far View House and Coyote Village. (see map)

We recommend visiting Hovenweep National Monument in Utah, not far from Mesa Verde to see what we consider the best pit houses in the Four Corners Region.

For details about Mesa Verde National Park visit Mesa Verde National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Hovenweep National Monument

Hovenweep National Monument is located on the Cajon Mesa of the Great Sage Plain between Blanding Utah and Cortez Colorado, it’s land straddles the Colorado / Utah state line.  From Utah the road that leads to the monument is south of Blanding and north of Bluff Utah [map]

Hovenweep National Monument is one of our favorite stops for above ground dwellings and villages. It’s central to Mesa Verde, Edge of the Cedars State Park, Cedar Mesa, Bears Ears National Monument, and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument making it an easy addition for planning a trip to the Four Corners Region.

Hovenweep is a collection of six groups of Ancestral Puebloan villages that can be visited from a walking trail loop. The entire loop will take less than two hours depending on how long you spend at each point of interest.

Hovenweep was dedicated as a National Monument in 1923 and is managed by the National Park Service. In July 2014, the International Dark-Sky Association designated Hovenweep an International Dark Sky Park.

Click this link for more details about Hovenweep National Monument (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

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