Established in 1906 to preserve a series of pre-Columbian Indian dwellings and ruins, 53,000-acre Mesa Verde (Spanish for "green table") offers a breathtaking sample of the highdesert landscape--steep, twisting canyons, flat-topped mesas, and unforgettable vistas.
The more than 4,000 archaeological sites tell a story that began 1,500 years ago, when agricultural people took up residence among the mesas. Their development from basket weavers and farmers to progressively more sophisticated potters, hunters, and builders can be witnessed in the many cliff dwellings and artifacts preserved here, including Cliff Palace, the largest dwelling. No backpacking or cross-country hiking is allowed in the park; visitors are permitted only to hike around developed areas or on the six designated trails, and access to some trails requires registering at the rangerís office. Cliff dwellings may be entered only with a ranger. All trails, with the exception of the Soda Canyon Overlook Trail, are strenuous and feature significant elevation changes.
Pinyon-juniper woodland is widespread, with Gambelís Oak, Douglas Fir, and Ponderosa Pine in draws and canyons. Sagebrush, yucca, and rabbitbrush occupy the open areas. Diverse mammals reside in the park, including Desert and Mountain Cottontails, Abertís Squirrels, Ringtails, Mountain Lions, and White-tailed Prairie Dogs. The abundant rodent populations make the region attractive for Golden Eagles, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and rare Peregrine Falcons. Common songbirds include Pinyon Jays, Common Poorwills, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Western Tanagers, scrub jays, and Rufous-sided Towhees. The parkís museum patio is a great spot to watch for hummingbirds. Along trails, keep an eye out for short-horned and collared lizards.
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