Mesa Verde National Park

There’s nothing that can prep you for the amazing ancient ruins at the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Within the park lies the great adobe Cliff Palace built more than 1,000 years ago by the Ancestral Puebloans, along with pictographs and cave paintings aplenty.

Mesa Verde is famously known for its ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and is the largest archaeological preserve in the USA. Featuring a rich cultural heritage and plenty to explore and uncover- this destination is perfect for history lovers.

Personally, I’m a little upset that I have to leave Mesa Verde in second place. It’s for good reason, but let’s leave it at this for now: this is not a park you want to miss out on if you’re anywhere near Southwestern Colorado. Despite having visited Mesa Verde twice, it’s the sort of park I could come back to again and again with a fresh sense of wonder.  As the largest archeological preserve in the United States, Mesa Verde offers views of more than 600 cliff dwellings carved into shallow mesa shelves by ancestral Pueblo people over the course of centuries between 550 and 1200 AD. Since 1906, people have been hiking, horseback riding, and now driving into the park to look at the cliff dwellings from across a shallow canyon where they look like tiny, windowed nests packed into caves. You can even take guided trips into the dwellings that housed entire communities thousands of years ago. This is a highly accessible park. With few options for hiking (except in winter, when several roads throughout the park are closed and you’re welcome to snowshoe to sites), most visitors drive through, stopping at dig sites and reconstructed kivas as well as at overlooks of the famous Balcony House and Cliff Palace. If you’re looking for something strenuous, look somewhere else, but there’s nothing in Colorado—or maybe on earth—quite like Mesa Verde.

Mesa Verde National Park is a prime example of how the US national parks system isn’t only about preserving Mother Nature. Counting a whopping 5,000 individual archaeology sites, this one’s a glimpse at the pre-history of the continent. The land here was once inhabited by the Ancestral Puebloans, who raised enthralling adobe-rock settlements like the Cliff Palace nearly 1,000 years ago. You’ll also get to see ancient pictographs and petroglyphs and cave dwellings.

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