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Mesa Verde National Park, CO

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Mesa Verde National Park

Evening View with Luminaries

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Cliff Palace

Cliff Palace

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Mesa Verde National Park

Mountain Vista

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Unlike the other national parks, Mesa Verde earned its status from its ancient cultural history rather than its geological treasures. President Theodore Roosevelt established it in 1906 as the first national park to "preserve the works of man," in this case that of the Ancestral Puebloans, also known as the Anasazi. They lived in the region from roughly 550 to 1300; they left behind more than 4,000 archaeological sites spread out over 80 square miles. Their ancient dwellings, set high into the sandstone cliffs, are the heart of the park.Mesa Verde (which in Spanish means, literally, "Green Table," but translates more accurately to something like "green flat-topped plateau") is much more than an archaeologist's dreamland, however. It's one of those windswept places where man's footprints and nature's paintbrush—some would say chisel—meet. Rising dramatically from the San Juan Basin, the jutting cliffs are cut by a series of complex canyons and covered in several shades of green, from pines in the higher elevations down to sage and other mountain brush on the desert floor. From the tops of the smaller mesas, you can look across to the cliff dwellings in the opposite rock faces. Dwarfed by the towering cliffs, the sand-color dwellings look almost like a natural occurrence in the midst of the desert's harsh beauty.

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Things You Can't Miss

Place
Investigate Vanished Ancestral Puebloans
Investigate Vanished Ancestral Puebloans

Stop at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, where exhibits feature cliff-dweller history and culture, and beautiful pottery, baskets and weavings.

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Alamy

Place
Cliff Palace, a Stunning Glimpse Into the Past
Cliff Palace, a Stunning Glimpse Into the Past

The largest cliff dwelling in North America, this structure has 150 rooms and 23 kivas (ceremonial spaces) built of sandstone with wood beams.

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Alamy

Place
Balcony House Is Well Worth the Effort
Balcony House Is Well Worth the Effort

You’ll climb ladders and crawl through a tunnel to tour this 40-room cliff dwelling, but you’re rewarded with an intimate look at 13th-century life.

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Alamy

Place
Rock Art on Display
Rock Art on Display

The moderately strenuous Petroglyph Point Trail leads 1.2 miles to the only spot in the park where you can see story-telling images engraved on rock.

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Alamy

Place
Scenery and History Combined
Scenery and History Combined

Six-mile Mesa Top Loop Road provides access to several park sites including the amazing overlook at Sun View Point and mysterious Sun Temple.

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Alamy

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