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|Mesa Verde National Park
the first national park created specifically to protect cultural treasures; total area 52,036 acres (about 81 square miles)
Mesa Verde rises abruptly from the Mancos and Montewzuma river valleys, reaching heights of 6,000 to 8,500 feet above sea level. The mesa top is scarred by numerous steep canyons, and many of the canyon walls are pockmarked with huge caves, recesses, alcoves and overhangs. "Mesa Verde" is Spanish for "green table," and it is so named because of the junipers and piņon pines that grow in abundance here.
The Mesa Verde area was settled by Anasazi Indians about 550 A.D. Here, the Anasazi developed magnificent basket- and pottery-making industries, which enabled them to end their hunting-and-gathering lives and settle down. Their first settlements consisted of clusters of pole-and-adobe houses arranged around central courtyards with kivas (underground ceremonial chambers) and storage pits. As their civilization progressed, the Anasazi population grew, meaning they had to have more and more land for farming. By the late-1190's, the Anasazi had become Pueblo dwellers, and most of the structures seen in the park today date from this period. Cliff Palace is the largest structure in the park. A small city, this complex has over 180 rooms and at one time housed about 400 people. Some of the buildings in Cliff Palace rise four stories. The second-largest structure is called the Spruce Tree House, which contains some 100 rooms. At its height, Mesa Verde was home to several thousand farmers, basket weavers and pottery makers. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Anasazi (Pueblo) society was highly organized and that it was not uncommon for individuals to specialize in agriculture, basketry, pottery, or other trade. Mesa Verde was occupied until about 1300, after which time its inhabitants moved into what are now Arizona and New Mexico; it is suspected that the migration was prompted by drought or other natural disaster.
The bill creating the park was signed by President Theodore Roosevelt on June 29, 1906, and Mesa Verde became a World Cultural Heritage Site on September 8, 1978. There are two museums in the park, with exhibits illustrating the life, customs, and arts of the people who once lived here.
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This page was last updated on June 28, 2017.