• View of Square Tower House, seen along the Mesa Top Loop

    Mesa Verde

    National Park Colorado

Enrichment Package: Activity 1 -- The Future Is In Your Hands: Part 2

Part 2 Mesa Verde National Park: The First Cultural National Park

For centuries, the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde were well known to the Native Americans in what is now the Four Corners region of the United States. European explorers often passed through the Ute lands and saw some smaller sites, but it was the Wetherills, a local ranching family, who introduced Mesa Verde and its treasures to the rest of the world.

In December of 1888, Richard Wetherill and his brother-in-law, Charlie Mason, were looking for lost cattle in what is now Mesa Verde National Park. Through heavy snowfall, they gazed across Cliff Canyon and saw Cliff Palace. On the same trip, they explored nearby Square Tower House and Spruce Tree House. Thus, the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde were "rediscovered."

When the Wetherill's story hit the newspapers, it caused a sensation and aroused great interest in the Mesa Verde area. In 1891, Swedish scholar Gustaf Nordenskiold, studied the dwellings and photographed many of the Mesa Verde sites. Nordenskiold's work, including his book, The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde, is considered to be a vital part of southwest archeology. His work is somewhat controversial however, because he removed several hundred artifacts from archeological sites and sent them to his native Sweden. Many of these artifacts remain on display in Finland.

The Wetherills and Nordenskiold helped to publicize Mesa Verde in magazines, newspapers, and public events, and brought international recognition to its amazing archeological sites. They also called attention to the need to preserve these prehistoric sites. Virginia McClurg, a woman who had visited Mesa Verde in the 1880s, was concerned about the future of these sites and was determined to see the area protected. In 1897, she made her case to the Colorado State Federation of Women’s Clubs (CSFWC) who wholeheartedly agreed to help her. Three years later, the CSFWC formed the Colorado Cliff Dwellings Association, a group whose sole purpose was to preserve the cliff dwellings. Although faced with several setbacks, they continued to promote their campaign to make Mesa Verde a national park through letter writing, fund raising, and even tours of Mesa Verde for the press. Their perseverance eventually paid off. On June 29th, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill creating Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde was the first national park dedicated to “preserve the works of man,” and was established to protect a part of our cultural heritage. That same year, Congress also passed The Antiquities Act, which protects historic and scientific objects on all public lands.

Just like Theodore Roosevelt, Horace Albright, Virginia McClurg, and others who helped preserve these special places for you to enjoy today, YOU can continue to help protect these sites for future generations to enjoy. Please continue to Part 3 to learn proper park etiquette while enjoying your visit to Mesa Verde.


Part 3 Park Etiquette: Taking Care of Mesa Verde National Park

Did You Know?

Zia Corn Dance

Descendants of Mesa Verde Ancestral Puebloans include the Hopi in Arizona, and the 19 Rio Grande pueblos of New Mexico: Taos, Picuris, Sandia, Isleta, San Juan, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Nambe, Tesuque, Jemez, Cochiti, Pojoaque, Santo Domingo, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Zia, Laguna, Acoma, and Zuni.