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10 Things You Didn't Know About Mesa Verde

10 Things You Didn't Know About Mesa Verde

Witnessing Mesa Verde National Park for the first time is a truly breathtaking experience. With so much rich history and unique tales behind each site in the park, it’s hard to capture it all. Out of the 58 National Parks in the US, Mesa Verde ranks at the 7th oldest with an official birthday of June 29th, 1906 and there’s a lot that’s happened in those past 112 years. Millions of visitors have traveled from across the world to view ancient dwellings, thousands of species of animals have been preserved and hundreds of trails have been traversed and traveled. You probably knew about Mesa Verde and the infamous cliff dwellings that are preserved there, but did you know these 10 other fascinating things? 

1. Although civilizations lived at Mesa Verde for centuries before, it wasn’t officially designated a national park until 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. He made considerable motions to “preserve the works of man” and keep the cliff dwellings and the park in pristine condition.

2. Mesa Verde translates to “Green Table” in Spanish, due to the numerous, lush juniper and pinon trees that cover the land.

3. Out of nearly 52,500 acres, there are believed to be more than 4,300 sites that, believe it or not, have yet to be discovered. One of the most recognizable dwellings is Cliff Palace, which is thought to date back more than 700 years and to have once been painted bright colors.

4. Experts estimate that Ancestral Puebloan civilizations relied on rain and winter snow as their water source, since the elevation of the park varies from 6,000 to 8,575 feet.

5. It’s possible that overpopulation was what led Mesa Verde to be abandoned by Ancestral Pueblo people from 600 A.D. to 1300 A.D. A 24-year drought in combination with rising population sizes caused many villages to pack up and move on.

6. Many think that the cliff dwellings were constructed as a means of defense against other invading threats. The absence of doors and windows closer to the ground meant that other groups had a hard time invading the communities there.

7. The position of the cliff dwellings effectively utilized solar energy. That’s right, the these civilizations were eco-friendly. In the summer, the villages were protected from too much sunlight and in the winter, the angle of the sun was perfect for warming the masonry of the cliff dwellings.

8. In 1874, a pioneer photographer named William Henry Jackson took the very first photos of the Two Story House, a cliff dwelling in the Mesa Verde region, thanks to his guide John Moss. His photographs helped bring greater attention to the unpopulated, unprotected area.

9. The first publicized request to set aside the area as a national park appeared in the Denver Tribune Republican on 1886. The editor was concerned that “vandals of modern civilization” would destroy the sites and that the federal government should actively protect the region.

10. The correct term for the Mesa Verde area is actually a “cuesta,” which is very similar to a mesa, but instead gently slopes in one direction.

Well, there you have it. Ten facts about our beloved Mesa Verde National Park that might have slipped through the cracks. For more stories about Mesa Verde and cultural information, click here

All photos courtesy of NPS / Cada Valcarce

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