Mesa Verde, means green tabletop in Spanish. Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, Colorado consists of several very green mesas, well at least it used to be. Much of Mesa Verde has been burned in multiple fires over the past 100 years and should be renamed to Mesa Desnudo (Bare tabletop). Although there has been some regrowth, the vast majority of the park looks like a deserted ghost land especially in the Wetherhill Mesa area. It is a bit eerie in places but after you spend some time wandering around the many ruins and dwellings the peacefulness and solitude begins to grow on you.
Mesa Verde National Park has over 4,500 archaeological sites with some 600 being cliff dwellings. The cliff dwellings are what draw most people to the park even though the Pueblos only lived in these structures for about 100 years before migrating elsewhere. Why? No one really knows. Could have been drought and/or lack of food and water, a threat of attack from other communities, or just been a desire to move elsewhere. No one really knows but it still is an amazing feat to see what the people of those times could engineer and how they could survive.
The park is divided into two separate mesas, Wetherhill and Chapin.
Wetherhill Mesa has a12 mile long steep, winding road with vehicle restrictions of 25’ and under. Wetherhill Mesa is the area most affected by the fires and is not as popular as Chapin Mesa. The road to Wetherhill dead ends after 12 miles and from there on there is a 6 mile paved loop that you can access for walking and/or biking. There are a few cliff dwellings to visit and some pithouses. There is a nice shelter with picnic tables, restrooms, and during the summer a café. While we hiked the loop we saw only a few people. This ia quite a change from most National Parks. The mesa also has feral horses and you will see evidence of them on the road and on the trail. We didn’t see any of the horses during our time there.
Chapin Mesa is the most popular area of the park and has a nice museum with an introductory film and a variety of cliff dwellings, both self guided and ranger led tours, and a number of ruins to visit. This area of the park is much more crowded and feels like a National Park with the throngs of visitors.
Prater Ridge Trail
Morefield Campground had 3 trails within the area of which the longest, Prater Ridge Trail, is about 7.8 miles and ascends up to the mesa top and loops around the top of the mesa with fabulous 360 degree views of the area. We loved the hike and consider it one of our top 5 hikes. A must do.