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Up a winding mountain road you enter Mesa Verde National Park and climb to 8400 feet to an overlook, Park Point, where you are at the highest point of the park and can overlook the Mancos Valley below. This is the mesa where the Anasazi chose to build their cliff dwellings. There are more that 600 cliff dwellings through out the park. Ranger tours are given to three and one can be visited on your own. We got tickets for the tours of the two dwellings on Chapin Mesa. Most of the mesa dwellings were built between 1190's to 1270's. They ranged from one room to villages with more than 200 rooms. By about 1300, the mesa was deserted.
The Cliff Palace had over 200 rooms. The one hour, ranger led, tour involves climbing five 8-10 ft ladders for a 100 foot vertical climb. You can only wonder when you see some of the hand and toe holds that the native dwellers used for entrance. This is Mesa Verde's largest cliff dwelling.
The Balcony House requires the climbing of a 32 ft ladder to gain entrance. It is worth the climb to view the dwelling and to look out on the canyon. To leave the house you must crawl through a 1 1/2 ft tunnel and then climbing up a 60 ft open rock face involving two ladders. Quite an adventure and once again you realize these dwellings were not built with ease of entrance in mind.
Spruce Tree House was one of the largest villages on the mesa. It had 114 rooms and 8 kivas. The walls are amazing in how straight they are and how square the corners are. There is a kiva that you can climb a ladder down into. These round rooms were believed to be for ceremonies. A 100 ft descent down a switchback trail gives you a work out. Rangers are stationed at the house to answer your questions.
Mesa Verde is definitely the place to go and view ruins. The ranger tours help you appreciate the uniqueness of this place and the ancient people who built their dwellings there. Spring is a great time to visit, before the summer heat and crowds build up. Both of our tours were a very nice size so that you could take enough time to view the ruins. The Mesa towers above the surrounding valley and it is puzzling to imagine why these people chose to make it their home.
This Mesa Verde link takes you to a gallery of photograhs.