Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content


Mesa Verde National Park

Close Up of Cliff PalaceMesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 to preserve sites built by "Pre-Columbian Indians" on mesa tops and in canyon alcoves. The park, containing 52,073 acres of Federal land, is a unit of the National Park System, and the NPS, a division of the Department of Interior, administers this site.

Mesa Verde (taken from the Spanish words used to describe the green plateaus of the region) rises high above the surrounding country. For 750 years, the Ancestral Puebloans occupied the area within the park. From the hundreds of dwellings that remain, archeologists have compiled one of the most significant chapters in the story of prehistoric America.

There are over 4,000 known archeological sites in Mesa Verde National Park, 600 of which are cliff dwellings. Only a few of these sites have been excavated.

The Ancestral Puebloan people moved up onto the mesa somewhere around AD 500. Although they used the cliff alcoves consistently throughout the time they were in the area, they did not build the cliff dwellings as such until around AD 1200.

Panorama of Cliff PalaceThe dwellings represent a massive construction project, yet the people lived in them only about 75 to 100 years. By AD 1300 they had migrated on to other areas to the south.

The people who lived in Mesa Verde are sometimes referred to as the "Anasazi," a Navajo Indian word meaning "ancient ones" or "ancient foreigners." In recognition that the people who once lived here are not only the ancestors of some of the Navajo, but also ancestral to most tribes living in the southwest, we now refer to the ancient people of Mesa Verde as the Ancestral Puebloan people. There are 24 tribes that affirm an ancestral affiliation with Mesa Verde National Park. Tribes affiliated with the park include all of the pueblos of New Mexico, the Hopi tribe in Arizona, as well as the Ute and Navajo peoples.