Mesa Verde Background

What is in the present day called Mesa Verde ("Green Table") National Park is an area containing many ruins of rock dwellings built into cliffs as well as on the flat surfaces of the upper mesa area. Within the park area itself, which occupies the northeast corner of the mesa (the majority of the mesa is on the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation), almost 4,000 sites have been identified, including over 600 cliff dwellings.

People had lived in this area for a long time previously, but the remarkable cliff dwellings themselves were constructed and inhabited at the end of this age between 1200 and 1300, after which the people left the area.

Mesa Verde had a strange feel to it. From what was gathered during the visit, the people built the cliff dwellings--the most "famous" and frequently photographed locations in the area--apparently as a "retreat" from possibly an increasingly hostile setting and vulnerability that, living down in the valleys or up on the upper mesa, they became evermore subjected to. How else can one explain the move into cliffs where the majority of the living space was in shadow and where winter time would be much darker and damper, and hence, colder and less comfortable. It seems the more preferable spots would not be in such dark places. Something happened to make it necessary to move to higher, more defensible, ground. This seems to be substantiated by the fact that after 1300 the area was not lived in at all by these people.

Far View House Square Tower House Cliff Palace Spruce House



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