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Cliff Dwellings at Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park
America's four corners region in southwest Colorado is a landscape of extremes and a place that used to be home to a thriving civilization long ago.
Mesa Verde National Park is made of 80 square miles of scenic trails, rugged canyons, wide-open views and some of the most well-preserved ancient cliff dwellings in the world. It was once home to the ancient Pueblo tribe who inhabited the region between 600 and 1300 A.D.
Within the park, there are more than 5,000 ruins from the Pueblo people who thrived in the harsh desert landscape. While many of the cliff dwellings are visible from the park's drive, a unique kind of adventure can be found at the park.
Greg set out to explore the park with Britt and Mike -- an active couple from Chicago who love the outdoors. They are both avid cyclist.
The first stop on their journey was Cliff Palace -- the largest Pueblo cliff dwelling in the park -- where they met up with ranger Laura who would be their guide. The size and complexity of these structures really took Greg by surprise.
While most of Mesa Verde can be explored on your own, the Balcony House dwelling is a little different. You need to make a reservation since this area is only shown on a guided tour by park rangers.
To explore these amazing ruins you should be ready for a nerve-rattling climb. Greg and the guest hikers had to drop down some steep stairs, walk a cliff-side trail and tackle a 30-foot ladder going straight up the cliff.
There are 40 individual rooms at Balcony House. With only one way in and one way out, the maze of tunnels shows you what it must have been like for the Pueblo people to live here long ago. The dedication and precious that the Pueblo people took to build these dwellings, serve as a testament to their remarkable ability to engineer and construct homes and villages that still stand today.
They used sandstone, mortar and wooden beams to construct the cliff dwellings. Using everything the land provided them, they would shape each sandstone block with the harder stones found near the river beds.
Kivas were common in each of the dwellings. They were used for ceremonial and religious gatherings. In the larger communities, such as Cliff Palace and Balcony House, you will find several kivas on the grounds since it was common that only one kiva service a handful of rooms.
Aside from being the perfect area to call home for defensive purposes, Balcony House has breathtaking vitas of Soda Canyon below.
Among the unique cliff dwellings in the park, there are plenty of well-maintained and marked hiking trails to explore the 80-square miles of land.
Just one mile north of Balcony House is the Soda Canyon Overlook Trailhead, which is one of the easier hikes in the area. It is a really flat hike with a dramatic view of Soda Canyon at the end. But don't let the striking views of the canyon keep you from checking the trailhead every once in a while. Greg almost stepped on a snake while enjoying the views.
Like Soda Canyon, many of the canyons are home to various dwellings of the Pueblo people. They occupied these lands for over 700 years but in historic terms, they vanished quickly -- abandoning their homes and way of life. Most historians believe a long drought that lasted for nearly 30 years forced the Pueblo people out.
Access to the Mesa Tops is a fun way to enjoy the beauty of Mesa Verde but, like most cliffs, these demand a ton of respect, awareness and care while exploring.
For a majority of their time, the Pueblo people occupied the Mesa Tops of Colorado. They thrived on the top of the cliff walls for hundreds of years in above ground communities. It wasn't until around 1200 A.D. that the Pueblo people dramatically changed their lifestyle -- moving to the cliff walls and building the dwellings we see today. Their understanding of the climate and the earth's resources is evident on how the dwellings are orientated on the cliffs.
After a quick stop in Spruce Tree House, the third largest dwelling in the park, Greg and the guest hikers explored the two-and-a-half mile Petra Point Trail. It is the only trail in the park to view ancient writing etched in the sandstones.
In addition to the ancient carvings, this trail had a lot of diversity with changing terrain and non-stop views.
When you come to Spruce Tree House, which is just below the main visitor's center, be sure to check out the hike the Petra Point Trail. During the summer, bring extra water and good shoes.
Mesa Verde National Park provides an extensive amount of history with over 4,000 park protected archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings.
Another one of Mesa Verde's prime attractions is Point Lookout. The short hike delivers a breathtaking 360 view of the four corners region. Greg and the guest hikers, Mike and Britt, headed to the point to enjoy the sunset on their last evening together. It was the perfect way to end a great journey!
For more information:
- Segment 1
- Motion Crew Climbs Through Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde
- The Motion crew traveled to southwest Colorado to explore the largest archeological site in America -- Mesa Verde National Park. Their first stop was the most adventurous cliff dwelling tour in the park -- Balcony House!
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- Segment 2
- Petroglyph Point Trail Reveals Mesa Verde's Ancient Carvings
- Among the unique cliff dwellings at Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park, there are plenty of well-maintained and marked hiking trails to explore the 80-square miles of land. Greg Aiello and a few guest hikers explored Soda Canyon Overlook and the only trail in the park to view petroglyphs.
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- Segment 3
- Motion Crew Enjoys Sunset Over Mesa Verde National Park
- After a lond day of exploring the cliff dwellings at Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park, Greg Aiello and a few guest hikers enjoy a sunset at the highest point at the park.
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- Photo Gallery
- Behind-the-Scenes Photos: Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park
- Go behind the scenes as Greg Aiello and two guest hikers from Chicago explore Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.
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