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EXPLORE AMERICA: Mesa Verde National Park

It looks like they still live here. As if someone might come walking out carrying water, or cleaning vegetables or you might hear children start laughing. For over 700 years the Pueblo called this place their home. What started as humble structures called pit houses in 750 A.D. turned into entire stone cities. To build them, the Pueblo created their version of masonry. They used sandstone blocks that were held in place by mud mortar to evolve their dwellings. As their population grew, so did their boldness and they headed for the cliffs.

These magnificent cliff dwellings served the Pueblo well. They varied in size from one room to over 150 and were intricate structures that could house the entire population. Archaeologists have determined that the Pueblo lived here from approximately 1150 A.D. to 1300 A.D. and then they started to leave. Over the next hundred years the place become completely deserted. By the time the first settlers ‘discovered’ them, the Cliff Dwellings had been empty for over 500 years.

Today, visitors still come to marvel at these structures. Mesa Verde National Park has five cliff dwellings sites visitors can tour — the Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Spruce Tree House, Long House and Step House. Tours can be self-guided or with a ranger. To get an overview of the history of the site and the Pueblo, spend some time in the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. It is in the park, 20 miles from the park entrance, and has educational videos as well exhibits that give context and insight into the world of the Pueblo peoples.

Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwest Colorado, along Highway 160 between Cortez and Durango. Telephone 970-529-4465. http://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htm

©Rand McNally/Anne Ford

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