We’ve done some digging through our archeological archives to come up with 12 interesting facts you might not know about Mesa Verde National Park. The southwestern Colorado national park is known for its extremely well preserved Puebloan cliff dwellings, where the Native Americans that lived there carved their homes into the earth. It’s an incredible sight to see and certainly worth the short drive on your next visit to Durango.
12 Facts About Mesa Verde
- Mesa Verde became a national park in 1906. President Theodore Roosevelt created the park to preserve the iconic cliff dwellings. It remains the only cultural park in the National Park System.
- The Mesa Verde National Park is home to numerous ruins of villages and dwellings built by the Ancient Pueblo peoples, sometimes called the Anasazi. The lived in the dwellings at Mesa Verde from approximately 600 to 1300 AD.
- There are over 4000 archaeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people at the site.
- Descendants of Mesa Verde Ancestral Pueblo people spread out far and wide, and include the Hopi in Arizona and the T19 Rio Grande pueblos of New Mexico: aos, Picuris, Sandia, Isleta, San Juan, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Nambe, Tesuque, Jemez, Cochiti, Pojoaque, Santo Domingo, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Zia, Laguna, Acoma and Zuni.
- The most famous Mesa Verde dwelling is the Cliff Palace. It dates back more than 700 years and was likely once painted with bright colors. It is constructed from sandstone, wooden beams and mortar.
- Henry William Jackson first photographed Mesa Verde and the cliff dwellings in 1874. He later went on to create “Uncle Sam.”
- What’s in a name? “Mesa Verde” is Spanish for “green table.” The name comes from the juniper trees and other foliage in the area.
- Mesa Verde became a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 1978.
- Scientists once thought the “Mummy Lake” at Mesa Verde was a reservoir. However, more recent research suggests that the body was actually used as a ceremonial structure. Guess that means the old theory no longer holds water.
- Mesa Verde was likely deserted by 1300. No one is quite sure why. Some researchers blame crop failures.
- In addition to building their dwellings, the Pueblo people who lived at Mesa Verde made high-quality baskets and pottery. These items were likely passed down from mother to daughter.
- The people of Mesa Verde were farmers who grew beans, corn and squash. They supplemented their diet by gathering other edible plants and hunting deer, squirrels, rabbits and other animals.