Observing wildlife in Mesa Verde offers a greater diversity than the casual visitor might imagine. Almost everyone spots a mule deer somewhere along the road as they enter the park. The only time these deer are not visible is in the middle of winter when snow drives them south into the warmer valley areas. Since the reintroduction of wild turkeys in 1991, many visitors are delighted to see these turkeys along the park entrance road, in Morefield Campground, or around the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. The campground is a good place to look for ground squirrels, skunks, or an occasional black bear. Remember that black bears are wild so put food out of reach when you camp and NEVER feed any wild animals.
To view other wildlife, you may want to get up early in the morning or wait until dusk. You might see a coyote, gray fox, mountain lion, black bear, elk, marmot, or even a porcupine. Between Far View and the Headquarters area, you have a good chance to see a coyote, cottontail rabbit, or possibly a jackrabbit. Be on the lookout for trespass horses along the road to Wetherill. These horses have crossed the boundary from the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation and casually graze along the roads within the park. If you go to Spruce Tree House, you may see an Abert's or Chickory Squirrel. The long ears, silver color, and bushy white tail of the Abert's squirrel make it a favorite sighting.
Regardless of where you see wildlife in Mesa Verde, remember that these are wild animals roaming freely in their natural habitat. Feeding these creatures is not only illegal, it is also harmful to their health. Use your binoculars and take pictures when you can, but keep your distance from them. At night one of these animals might scurry across the road in front of your car, so drive slowly and carefully. Look or listen for owls if you are camping in Morefield or staying at the Far View Lodge. Mesa Verde is fortunate to have great horned, spotted, long-eared, pygmy, saw whet, and flammulated owls within its boundaries.
If you are fortunate enough to spot a rarely seen animal such as a mountain lion or bear, we ask you to fill out a wildlife sighting card to record your special sighting. Take your time and enjoy the diversity that Mesa Verde provides.
Did You Know?
On a snowy December day in 1888, while ranchers Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason searched Mesa Verde’s canyons for stray cattle, they unexpectedly came upon Cliff Palace for the first time. The following year, the Wetherill brothers and Mason explored an additional 182 cliff dwellings.