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Mesa Verde National Park | Roadtrip USA (23)

We drove from south-east Colorado, where we enjoyed Great Sand Dunes National Park and the nearby hot springs, head south-west to visit Mesa Verde National Park. In this article you can read about the history of Mesa Verde and we also give you tips for a visit to the park.

Before you read on, watch the short video at the top of this page. With our drone we made a considerable flight of several kilometers. From the air it is easy to see how gigantic this beautiful park is!


Plan your vacation to America here


Our journey through the United States and Canada

This article is part of a major one-year journey that we (Chris and Malou van Wereldreizigers.nl), are currently making by the United States en Canada† We started in New York City and are through Washington DC en Baltimore (where we shipped our RV), first traveled south (Florida) and then made a full round of the country.

Organizing this trip took a lot of time and energy. So we had to US B1/B2 visa of one year and we spent weeks working on it renovating our 4×4 camper† Then we got to work on the RV to America to ship and in hindsight it turned out to be a Dutch vehicle insurance in America to be one of the biggest challenges.

When that was all over, we could finally focus on the anticipation: figuring out and planning all the beautiful places we want to visit. I built the ultimate roadtrip route through America and Canada of roughly 50.000 kilometers in Google maps and we are now making our dream come true! The interactive map can be viewed below.

More blogs from our trip through America and Canada

What is there to see in Mesa Verde?

In Mesa Verde you will find well-preserved cliff dwellings of the Pueblo Indianswho lived there from the eleventh to the thirteenth century. They built the houses in the walls of the ravines. The buildings are mainly made of wooden beams, mortar (a type of cement) and sandstone from the cliffs themselves.

In the thirteenth century, the Indians suddenly left this place. To this day it remains a mystery why. There are suspicions that drought, and the associated food shortages, were the reason. The national park protects the cultural heritage and you can visit it to learn about Native Americans who once lived there.

Also read: All National Parks in the United States of America | List

Green peaks and the valley | Mesa Verde National Park
Green peaks and the valley | Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde means green tops. As you can see from the pictures, the area consists of valleys, rock faces, cliffs and large green plateaus on top. At a glance you will hardly see anything of the ancient civilization that lived here. But if you pay close attention and look at the many rock walls in the area with binoculars or a camera, you will see traces of old buildings, such as the cliff houses below.

cliff dwellings | Mesa Verde National Park
cliff dwellings | Mesa Verde National Park

What is there to do in Mesa Verde?

Hiking – Petroglyph Point Trail

The park has mapped out several walks for you. From easy routes and short distances to difficult routes (climbing!) and long distances. Ask at the visitor center or the park entrance to get a map for walks and pick one.

It is also important to ask yourself what you would like to see. Most cool things can be seen within a short walking distance (Americans, huh?), but for some you will really have to stretch your legs.

Petroglyphs | Mesa Verde National Park
Petroglyphs | Mesa Verde National Park

We chose to Petroglyph Point Trail (starting point here.), to walk. It will take you to rock paintings, which cannot be reached by car. The rock paintings show the written language of the Indians at that time and that is special. More than 30 human and animal figures, spirals and handprints are on display.

Petroglyph Point Trail | Mesa Verde National Park
Petroglyph Point Trail | Mesa Verde National Park

In total it was about four kilometers and quite strenuous, as it could often be rough, steep and narrow on and between the boulders. The area looked beautiful and especially from the green peaks, the view was amazing!

Viewpoint on the Petroglyph Point Trail | Mesa Verde National Park
Viewpoint on the Petroglyph Point Trail | Mesa Verde National Park

Hiking – Point Lookout Trail

In the evening, just before sunset, we opted for a small walk. From the campsite we walked the Point Lookout Trail (starting point here.† The name says it all; it was an astonishing view. We enjoyed this and of course took countless photos and videos of the place.

We took it very easy on this walk as we took pictures of flowers, views and yes, even bunnies in the meantime! It took us about 40 minutes, but if you keep going a bit you will reach the end point of the Point Lookout Trail in about 25 to 30 minutes.

Chris at the end of the Point Lookout Trail | Mesa Verde National Park
Chris at the end of the Point Lookout Trail | Mesa Verde National Park

You can choose to shoot a nice picture and walk right back, but Chris sat down for a while to enjoy the view. He often does that in places like this one. In total we spent about an hour in this place watching the sun slowly sink to the mountains.

Nice staring out at Point Lookout Trail | Mesa Verde National Park
Nice staring out at Point Lookout Trail | Mesa Verde National Park

About 20 minutes before the sun would disappear behind the mountains, we walked back. The way back suddenly looked very different with that low sun. Beautiful contrast on the mountains. And those colors! Everything is more beautiful it seems, in the last hour before the sun sets.

The campsite where we stayed (Morefield Campground - Location here.), is located on the right behind the high cliff that you see in the distance. The Trail is really easy, it's flat and doable for almost everyone.

The trail from the Point Lookout Trail to Morfield Campground | Mesa Verde National Park
The trail from the Point Lookout Trail to Morfield Campground | Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa-top Loop (driving by car)

To learn more about the Native Americans who lived there, they've mapped out a route for you that takes you past the clifftop dwellings and other Native American remains.

The route is called the Mesa-top Loop (location here.† You can also drive this route with a camper, provided it is no longer than 24ft (8 meters). The idea is to go around by car or camper and always stop at the sights, where you walk around for a while.

Free audio tour

through a free audio tour (here. can be found on Spotify if you want to save it for later), they tell you about it. You can also use the Spotify player below to listen to the audio tour of the Mesa-top Loop right now.

The Mesa Summit Loop combined with the free audio tour is the best way to see and learn about the many remnants of the ancient civilization. For example, you first start with some old remains of houses where the Pueblo Indians lived. These houses were dug half into the ground to protect themselves against the cold in the winter and the heat in the summer.

On the information board below, which I took a picture of, you can see what life in such a house was like at the time.

The dug-in houses of Pueblo Indians
The dug-in houses of Pueblo Indians

After viewing some of these ruins, drive slowly but surely to the 'center' of the ancient civilization. There were real squares and places where people gathered. They even built a kind of 'flats' where people lived on top of each other, as seen below at Square Tower House.

Square Tower House | Mesa-top Loop
Square Tower House | Mesa-top Loop

The largest, and in our opinion most beautiful cliff dwellings can be seen at Cliff Palace. These are easily visible from Sun Temple, also one of the places where you can stop on the Mesa-top Loop route.

Cliff Palace | Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace | Mesa Verde National Park

Remark: In the past it was possible to get a closer look at the cliff dwellings and even to go into the cliffs. Unfortunately, this is no longer possible due to the risk of collapse. They do everything they can to prevent this so that the cliff dwellings can be preserved.

Cliff Palace Loop Road (drive by car)

In addition to the Mesa-top Loop, there is another route that you can drive yourself: the Cliff Palace Loop Road. Unfortunately this other route was closed when we were there due to construction. They are reinforcing the rocks and resurfacing the roads. This part should reopen to visitors at the end of 2022. There would be more cliff dwellings to see on this route, including some very unique ones.

Camping

Morefield Campground

Mesa Verde National Park has a campground called Morefield Campground (location here.† Although it is fairly busy at the beginning of June at campsites in other National Parks, there was still sufficient availability when we arrived without a reservation. We stayed there for two nights. A night of camping costs a total of 41 USD, without so-called hook-ups. Restrooms were within walking distance. Showers in reception and these were not within walking distance.

A rabbit is watching us near the campsite | Mesa Verde National Park
A rabbit is watching us near the campsite | Mesa Verde National Park

BLM country

Would you rather go wild camping? Then there are plenty of places just outside the park in the BLM (land management agency) area. Some of these are really a stone's throw from the entrance. In the app iOverlander can you find them!

Tip:: when you visit the park, you will have to make a big climb up by car or camper. We therefore chose to camp within the boundaries of the park at the official campsite.

This was not cheap but did have the advantage of not having to drive up and down the mountain every time and we were on the peaks around sunset to take nice pictures and videos.

Finally…

To enjoy your experiences in the park even more, I give you the tip to think about how incredibly special it is that these cliff dwellings have been preserved so that you can come in 2022 (or maybe even later) visits.

Spruce Tree House | Mesa-top Loop
Spruce Tree House | Mesa-top Loop

There is no place in the world where you can see this except here. Mesa Verde was declared a national park in 1906, more than a hundred years ago, to protect it for future generations.

Also read: Traveling to America? As of June 12, no more covid tests for the US!


Plan your vacation to America here


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Malou

From an early age 👶 I have been fascinated by distant travels and other cultures. Seen many a country 🗺️, but certainly not ready yet! At this age (31) I often think about how to organize my life further. When I travel, I quickly let go of that and I can fully enjoy the here and now 🧘.
At home 🏠 I have a job in childcare, but at the moment I have a year off to go on an adventure with my husband Chris and the camper 🚐 in the US 🇺🇸 and Canada 🇨🇦

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