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Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde, United States

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Description

Mesa Verde National Park is a U.S. National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Montezuma County, Colorado, United States. It is the largest archaeological preserve in the United States. The park was created in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the world, or as he said, "preserve the works of man". It is the only cultural National Park set aside by the National Park System. It occupies 81.4 square miles (211 km2) near the Four Corners and features numerous ruins of homes and villages built by the Ancient Pueblo peoples, sometimes called the Anasazi. There are over 4000 archaeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people at the site.

The Anasazi inhabited Mesa Verde between 600 to 1300, though there is evidence they left before the start of the 15th century. They were mainly subsistence farmers, growing crops on nearby mesas. Their primary crop was corn, the major part of their diet. Men were also hunters, which further increased their food supply. The women of the Anasazi are famous for their elegant basket weaving. Anasazi pottery is as famous as their baskets; their artifacts are highly prized. The Anasazi kept no written records.

By the year 750 the people were building mesa-top villages made of adobe. In the late 1190s they began to build the cliff dwellings for which Mesa Verde is famous.

Mesa Verde is best known for cliff dwellings, which are structures built within caves and under outcroppings in cliffs — including Cliff Palace, thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America. The Spanish term Mesa Verde translates into English as "green table". It is considered to contain some of the most notable and best preserved archaeological sites.

Mesa Verde National Park covers 52,000 acres in southwestern Colorado.:220 Its canyons were created by erosion from receding ancient oceans and waterways, which resulted in Mesa Verde National Park elevations ranging from about 6,000 to 8,572 feet (1,829 to 2,613 m), the highest elevation at Park Point. The terrain in the park is now a transition zone between the low desert plateaus and the Rocky Mountains.:9–13, 24

The climate is consumption by the Ancient Pueblo peoples was provided by summer rains, winter snowfall and seeps and springs in and near the Mesa Verde villages. The middle mesa areas, ten degrees cooler than on the mesa at 7,000 feet (2,100 m), were ideal for agriculture, and the lower temperatures reduced the amount of water needed for agriculture.:15 The cliff dwellings were built to take advantage of solar energy. The angle of the sun in winter warmed the masonry of the cliff dwellings, warm breezes blew from the valley, and the air was ten to twenty degrees warmer in the canyon alcoves than on the top of the mesa. In the summer, with the sun high overhead, much of the village was protected from direct sunlight in the high cliff dwellings.:16–17

By 1300 AD prolonged drought had caused the fragile adaptation to collapse and the Mesa Verde area was abandoned. The surviving Mesa Verde people retreated to the south and east.

In the late Cretaceous Period, the Mancos Shale was deposited on top of the Dakota Sandstone, which is the rock formation that can be found under much of Colorado. The beds of the Mancos Shale are "fine-grained sand-stones, mudstones, and shales" which accumulated in the deep water of the Cretaceous Sea. It has a high clay content which causes it to expand when wet leading to sliding of the terrain.

On top of this shale, there are three formations in the Mesaverde group which reflect the changes in depositional environment in the area over time. The first is the Point Lookout Sandstone, which is named for the Point Lookout feature in the park (elevation 8427 feet). This sandstone—which formed in the marine environment of shallow water when the Cretaceous sea was receding—is "massive, fine-grained, cross-bedded, and very resistant", in its layers reflecting waves and currents that were present during the time of its formation. Its sediments are approximately 400 feet thick, and its upper layers feature fossiliferous invertebrates.

Next is the Menefee Formation, the middle formation whose content features "interbedded carbonaceous shales, siltstones, and sandstones". These were deposited in a semi-marine environments of brackish water in "bays, lagoons, and swamps". Due to its depositional environment and the organic material in its composition, there are thin coal seams running through the Menefee Formation. At the top, this Formation is intruded upon or "inter fingers with" the Cliff House Sandstone.

The Cliff House Sandstone is the "youngest rock layer present in the area." It was formed after the Cretaceous sea had completely receded and as a result has a high sand content from beaches, dunes, etc. and from this receives its characteristic yellow tint to its canyon faces. Like the Point Lookout Sandstone, it is about 400 feet thick. It contains numerous fossil beds of different types of shells, fish teeth, and other invertebrate leftovers from the receded sea. The shale zones in this feature determine where alcoves formed where the Anasazi Indians constructed their dwellings.

Continuing through the Cretaceous period and into the early Tertiary, there was uplifting in the area of the Colorado Plateaus, the San Juan Mountain, and the La Plata Mountain which led to the formation of the Mesa Verde pediment with the help of erosion. Small channels of water ran across this formation depositing gravel. Later in the tertiary, the last period of uplift and rock tilting towards the south caused these streams to cut rapidly into the rock removing loose sediment and forming the vast canyons seen today. This caused the isolation of the Mesa Verde pediment from surrounding rock. Today, since the climate is more arid, these erosional processes are significantly slowed.

The Mesa Verde area was settled by 400 AD, and villages subsequently spread into a variety of local ecological settings. Over time masonry replaced jacal walls and central villages came to dominate smaller subordinate ones scattered around them in multivillage polities.

Architecture

The buildings that were built here showed a trend at the time of inhabitants moving towards time masonry techniques over former jacal walls that were commonplace in architectural design. One of the reasons settlers moved into the cliff dwellings was to increase their farming production by creating irrigation systems as water flowed down the cliff to attempt to combat the changing, drought induced, climate.

Approximately 600 of the over 4700 archeological sites found in Mesa Verde National Park are cliff dwellings.:7 In addition to the cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde boasts a number of mesa-top ruins.:220–221 Examples open to public access include the Far View Complex and Cedar Tree Tower on Chapin Mesa, and Badger House Community, on Wetherill Mesa.:222

The area in and around Mesa Verde had been home to the Utes. In 1868, a treaty between the United States government and the Ute tribe recognized Ute ownership of Colorado land by identifying land west of the Continental Divide as Ute land. After there had become an interest in land in western Colorado, a new treaty in 1873 left the Ute with a strip of land in southwestern Colorado between the border with New Mexico and 15 miles north. Most of Mesa Verde lies within this strip of land. The Ute wintered in the warm, deep canyons and found sanctuary there and the high plateaus of Mesa Verde. Believing the cliff dwellings to be sacred ancestral sites, they did not live in the ancient dwellings.:77

Mexican-Spanish missionaries and explorers Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, seeking a route from Santa Fe to California, faithfully recorded their travels in 1776. They reached the Mesa Verde (green plateau) region, which they named after its high, tree-covered plateaus, but they never got close enough, or into the needed angle, to see the ancient stone villages.:77:9–10 They were the first white men to travel the route through much of the Colorado Plateau into Utah and back through Arizona to New Mexico.

The Wetherills also hosted Gustaf Nordenskiöld, the son of polar explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, in 1891.:81:27 Nordenskiöld was a trained mineralogist who introduced scientific methods to artifact collection, recorded locations, photographed extensively, diagrammed sites, and correlated what he observed with existing archaeological literature as well as the home-grown expertise of the Wetherills. He removed a lot of artifacts and sent them to Sweden, where they eventually went to the National Museum of Finland. Nordenskiöld published, in 1893, The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde.:82–84 When Nordenskiöld shipped the collection that he made of Mesa Verde artifacts, the event initiated concerns about the need to protect Mesa Verde land and its resources.:83–84

Virginia McClurg was diligent in her efforts between 1887 and 1906 to inform the United States and European community of the importance of protecting the important historical material and dwellings in Mesa Verde. Her efforts included enlisting support from 250,000 women through the Federation of Women's Clubs, writing and having published poems in popular magazines, giving speeches domestically and internationally, and forming the Colorado Cliff Dwellers Association. The Colorado Cliff Dwellers' purpose was to protect the resources of Colorado cliff dwellings, reclaiming as much of the original artifacts as possible and sharing information about the people who dwelt there. A fellow activist for protection of Mesa Verde and prehistoric archaeological sites included Lucy Peabody, who, located in Washington, D.C., met with members of Congress to further the cause.:85:61–72

Former Mesa Verde National Park superintendent Robert Heyder communicated his belief that the park might have been far more significant with the hundreds of artifacts taken by Nordenskiöld.

By the end of the 19th century, it was clear that Mesa Verde needed protection from people in general who came to Mesa Verde and created or sold their own collection of artifacts. In a report to the Secretary of the Interior, Smithsonian Institution Ethnologist J. Walter Fewkes described vandalism at Mesa Verde's Cliff Palace:

Some key occurrences are:

Mesa Verde's park entrance is on U.S. Route 160, about 9 miles (14 km) east of the community of Cortez and about 7 miles (11 km) west of Mancos, Colorado.

The park protects over 4,000 archaeological sites, including 600 separate cliff dwellings.[citation needed]

Of the park's 600 separate cliff dwellings, 230 of them have been assessed for damage, and may be repaired in the coming years.

The Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center is located just off of Highway 160 and is before the park entrance booths. The Visitor and Research Center opened in December 2012. Chapin Mesa (the most popular area) is 20 miles (32 km) beyond the visitor center.

Park facilities and access:

Mesa Verde National Park is an area of federal exclusive jurisdiction. Because of this all law enforcement, emergency medical service, and wildland/structural fire duties are conducted by federal National Park Service Law Enforcement Rangers.

The Mesa Verde National Park Post Office has the ZIP Code 81330.

The Ute Mountain Tribal Park, adjoining Mesa Verde National Park to the east of the mountains, is approximately 125,000 acres (51,000 ha) along the Mancos River. Hundreds of surface sites, cliff dwellings, petroglyphs and wall paintings of Ancestral Puebloan and Ute cultures are preserved in the park. Native American Ute tour guides provide background information about the people, culture and history who lived in the park lands. National Geographic Traveler chose it as one of "80 World Destinations for Travel in the 21st Century", one of only nine places selected in the United States.

In February 2008, the Colorado Historical Society decided to invest a part of its US$7 million budget into a culturally modified trees project in the National Park.

More Mesa Verde images

The Cliff Palace today

Round tower, Cliff Palace. Photo by Ansel Adams, 1941

Mesa Verde from a northern view, May, 2007

Photo of a modern visitor next to the hand holds used to reach the mesa top by the original inhabitants of Cliff Palace

Laser Scans

Plan of entire Spruce Tree House from above, cut from a laser scan

Laser scan section of the four-story Square Tower House

Mesa Verde

Other neighboring Ancient Pueblo sites in Colorado

Other cultures in the Four Corners region

Early American cultures

34. Snow, Dean R. "Chapter 6." Archaeology of Native North America. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.

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Official Record

  • WDPA ID997
  • NameMesa Verde
  • Original NameMesa Verde
  • Country / TerritoryUSA
  • Sub locationUS-CO
  • IUCN CategoryIIWhat is this?
  • English DesignationNational Park
  • Designation TypeNational
  • StatusDesignated
  • Status YearUnknown
  • Reported Area km20.0
  • Marinefalse
  • Governance TypeFederal or national ministry or agency
  • International CriteriaNot Applicable
  • Management AuthorityNational Park Service (NPS)
  • Management Plan URLNot Reported

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US Geological Survey (USGS) National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) Gap Analysis Program (GAP) (2010)


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