I am a huge archaeology nerd, so naturally when I started seeing pictures and books about the Anasazi, I knew one day I would have to visit! I had the chance to visit a few years ago on a 10 day road trip from Washington, down to Arizona and all the way up the west coast. I made sure Mesa Verde National Park was one of the first stops on the road trip! If you missed my 3 part road trip series on the blog, you can check them out here:
Who are the Anasazi?
This is one of the great questions. There is not much known about these people and why they suddenly moved away, but the National Park Service website explains it in the most simple terms:
"About 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Then, in the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away."
How do you get there?
You will need a car to explore everything around the park. If you are flying by plane, the closest major airport is Albuquerque, New Mexico. Since you will need a car anyway, rent a car and drive about 4 hours to Cortez.
If you would rather take a tour and not worry about driving, you can fly into Durango, Colorado and take a 9 hour day trip through Mesa Verde.
Check out the tour HERE
Where do you stay?
If you are driving through or want to stay overnight to explore for several days, there are many small motel style places to stay in Cortez, Colorado which is just about 15 minutes outside the park entrance. You can get one night in a Holiday Inn for about $100.
If you are a bit more adventurous, there is a campground about 4 miles from the park entrance called Morefield Campground.
Navigating the park
Depending on the time of year you are planning to visit, check the website first. I visited in April and happened to visit the VERY first day it opened for the year. We even were the first tour group to visit that morning!
I recommend going early in the day - like, right when it opens at either 8:00am or 7:30am depending on the time of year.
There are 2 fees, one for the park entrance which is either $15 or $20 depending on the time of year.
The second fee is for the Ranger guided tour tickets, which are $5 per person and can be pre-purchased up to 2 days in advance.
How to see the park in half a day:
Purchase your tickets and pick a time for the Cliff Palace tour first. It will then take you about 1 hour to drive to once you leave the Visitor and Research Center. The Cliff Palace tour will take about 1 hour, and guided by a Ranger. This was my favorite of all the cliff dwellings
As you leave Cliff Palace, you will notice another dwelling across Cliff Canyon. This is called the House of Many Windows. Take a few minutes to read up on what you are looking at.
Grab lunch at the Spruce Tree Café
Next, check out the Balcony House. This is also a ranger guided tour and will require you to be able to climb ladders and crawl through tunnels.
Finally, visit the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum where you can learn more about Ancestral Pueblo life with prehistoric artifacts, and a chronology of Ancestral Pueblo culture.
If you plan to stay several days in the park, I recommend doing a Twilight Photography tour! For $20 a person, you will have 90 minutes with a park ranger to explore. This is also a great time for photographers to get amazing shots of the dwelling.