Mesa Verde, in southwestern Colorado, is the site of well-preserved ancient American Indian ruins. Here in the 1200s a.d. the Anasazi Indians (also called Cliff Dwellers) built their dwellings into the sides of a plateau. The area was named Mesa Verde (which is Spanish meaning "green table") because the stone cities were carved into the sides of the mesas (flattopped hills) in a region noted for its forests of junipers and pines. The multi-storied dwellings were built for protection from raiding tribes: the inhabitants could retract access ladders in case of attack. The largest and best known of the ruins is the Cliff Palace, which contains more than 200 rooms and was probably inhabited by two to three hundred people at a time. Balcony House and Spruce Tree House are other large, multi-family dwellings.
A National Park since 1906, Mesa Verde provides a historical record of the ancient American Indians who occupied the area for hundreds of years. Nomadic peoples had moved onto the mesa top by the sixth century. As they made the transition from a huntinggathering life style to an agricultural one, they moved from underground pit houses to the cliff dwellings. Over hundreds of years their culture became increasingly sophisticated. No longer involved in the time-consuming practice of following the herds for sustenance, the Anasazi turned their attention to crafting pottery, making decorative textiles, building kivas (underground ceremonial structures), and carving their homes in the rocky sides of mesas. The settlement at Mesa Verde was empty by 1300. Twenty-four years of low rainfall and increasingly hostile raids wiped out the Anasazi Indians who lived there. The site was first seen by white settlers in 1859.
See also: Anasazi, Pueblo, Southwestern Indians