Mesa Verde National Park is home to fascinating plants and animals. What’s more, this spectacular natural area offers opportunities for star gazing and observation of unique geological features. Whether you want to take a casual walk to see how many plant species you can identify along the trail, or set up your telescope to scope out shooting stars, or just pause to read about geology along road or trailside displays, opportunities abound for all! Interested in what types of plants and animals you can expect or where to find out about the park’s geology? Find out about the Mesa Verde's plant life, animals, geological features and more Mesa Verde nature information.
Mesa Verde Plants and Flowers
Mesa Verde’s altitude, climate, and pinyon-juniper forests are trademarks of the “Upper Sonoran Life Zone.” The semi-arid climate and relatively high altitude maintain an environment for diverse and unique plant and flower life. Keep your eyes open for sagebrushes, Douglas firs, gambel oaks, mountain mahoganies, pinyon pines, Ponderosa pines, snowberries, Utah junipers, yuccas, asters, evening primroses, Indian paintbrushes, prickly pear cacti and many other species.
Also be on the lookout for exhibits and trail guides that will help you learn more about plants you find. Walk through the Headquarters Area (between the museum and Chief Ranger’s station) to read about common plants in Mesa Verde. Take the Petroglyph Point trail or Spruce Tree House trail and pick up their trail guides to learn about plants you will see along the way.
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No matter where you are inside the park, please remember that this is a protected area and nothing should be taken or disturbed. Help preserve this beautiful area for future generations.
Animals of Mesa Verde
No matter where you travel within Mesa Verde National Park, you will see wildlife. Please remember that these are not tame animals. Approaching a wild animal, no matter what species or size, can be dangerous to both human and animal. Do not feed wildlife or leave garbage or food items within reach when camping or leaving an area. When animals become dependent on anything but their natural foods, they can become a nuisance to visitors and may have to be removed. It is highly probable that such animals will starve because they no longer search for food on their own, even when park visitors are scarce.
Keep your eyes open for mammals, reptiles, and plenty of birds. Almost every visitor will see mule deer and turkey, but if you are patient, there are many other animals nearby that you can spot. If you wait until dawn or dusk, look for a coyote, black bear, elk, marmot, mountain lion, or fox. If you are fortunate enough to see a mountain lion or black bear, please find a wildlife sighting card to let the park service know.
There are many reptiles around to keep you on your toes. Among lizards, you may find collared lizards, six-lined racerunners, short-horned lizards, and the Northern plateau lizard. Among non-venomous snakes, you may encounter the bull snake and the yellow bellied racer. The venomous prairie rattlesnake is unlikely to be encountered but is easily identified by the triangular-shaped head.
Remember, any of these animals might choose to cross your path on the trail or while you are driving. Please move cautiously and drive within speed limits to prevent accidents.
Mesa Verde Bird Watching
For avid bird watcher traveling to Mesa Verde, the national park service published a “Checklist of Birds” brochure visitors may purchase. The brochure lists common park bird species as well as suggestions for places to view these birds. If you are on the lookout for a specific bird, be sure to ask a ranger at the Visitor Center or the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum for special hints. A few notable birds to look for include the Western Tanager, golden eagle, the red-tailed hawk, the turkey vulture, the American kestrel, and the great horned owl.
Geological Features of Mesa Verde
Many areas in the park provide wonderful views of Mesa Verde’s geology; however, if you are interested in doing more than just looking, the list below will assist travelers in narrowing down their stops. The National Park Service provides exhibits and trail guides specifically designed to educate vacationers about the fascinating geology that makes up Mesa Verde National Park.
Geologic Overlook. A simple stop and a short walk will provides visitors with allow visitors to see a wayside exhibit that covers park geology and other features.
Knife Edge Trail. If staying in Morefield Campground or just passing though, setting aside time to take this two mile, round-trip hike will provide a second opportunity to learn about park geology and other park features by taking the trail guide along the route.
Montezuma Overlook. This is another stop along the main road in the park. This overlook includes exhibits on park geology and other topics as well.
Park Point. Be sure to check out the highest point on the main park road. A short walk takes visitors to multiple exhibits, including geological information.
Petroglyph Loop Trail. When near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and Spruce Tree House, take Petroglyph Loop Trail, just 2.4 miles round-trip, for another opportunity to not only observe park geology and but also read about them in more detail with the provided trail guide.
Spruce Tree House Trail. Interested in a shorter walk? Yet another trail guide is available for this 0.5 mile hike near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.
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Explore Mesa Verde National Park