An Introduction to Mesa Verde

The following information will provide your students with a basic overview of the natural and cultural history of Mesa Verde National Park.

Review the three sections below and have your students discuss and answer the following questions.

1. Welcome to Mesa Verde
Watch the short film with Ranger TJ. As a class, list some of the things you saw (animals, plants, places, etc).

2. The Mesa Verde Environment
Look closely at the image of the Mesa Verde environment. Does the mesa look like an easy or difficult place to live? Why?

3. Living on the Mesa
Look closely at the illustrations of pueblo life on the mesa. Can you list three activities you see people doing?


1. Welcome To Mesa Verde

Ranger TJ loves to share the history of her people with park visitors. Ranger TJ is Laguna Pueblo. Her ancestors lived on the mesa long ago.

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1 minute, 19 seconds

Ranger TJ Atsye provides a brief welcome and overview of Mesa Verde National Park.


2. The Mesa Verde Environment

Mesa Verde National Park is located in Southwest Colorado, near Four Corners. Four Corners is where the states of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado all meet. Use a classroom map to locate Four Corners and Mesa Verde National Park.

The Four Corners area is defined by forested mountains and mesas with large sagebrush plains inbetween. Mesa means "table" in Spanish. A mesa landform is a flat-topped hill or mountain with steep sides all around it.

Mesa Verde is covered in a dense forest of small evergreen trees. Pinon pine, juniper trees, shrubs, grasses, cacti and wildflowers, provide food and habitat for animals such as deer, elk, mountain lion, bobcats, bears, and turkeys.

Many steep walled canyons cut into the mesa. Some of these canyons contain seep springs, an important water source for wildlife and people alike.

Use the image below to better understand the Mesa Verde environment.

A trail winds along a forested mesa top, with a view down a winding canyon stretching into the distance. Fluffy white clouds fill the sky.
View of Navajo Canyon at Mesa Verde National Park

3. Living on the Mesa

For over 700 years, Pueblo people lived on and around the Mesa Verde region. Pueblo Indians are American Indians who live in pueblos and have a long tradition of farming.

Pueblo is the Spanish word for "village" or "town." In the Southwest, a pueblo is a settlement that has houses made of stone, mud, and wood. The houses have flat roofs and can be one or more stories tall.

Illustration of a pithouse structure and village made of wood and adobe.
Pueblo people first began living on the mesa around 550 CE (Common Era). The Mesa Verde environment was a good place for these earlier settlers to farm and build permanent homes called pithouses. Pithouses were dug partially underground with a wood and mud roof.
Illustration of a pueblo room block surrounded by corn fields.
Over time, the style of home changed to above ground rooms built side by side (750 CE). Pueblo villages grew in size and farms were expanded. While pueblo farmers grew a variety of crops, corn was especially important.
Illustration of a pueblo village with people at work.
Communities continued to grow on the mesa. By 900 CE homes and villages were built of stone. Stone masonry allowed for two, three, even four story villages. People traded with other villages and communities far way, bring in fine items and new ideas.
Illustration of Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling.
In the 1100's families began to move from mesa top villages into cliff dwellings. Cliff dwellings are pueblos built into shallow alcoves located along the steep walls of canyons.

Why move into a cliff dwelling? Pueblos built into these natural rock alcoves were protected from wind, rain, and snow. Active seep springs where families could collect water were also located below the canyon rim, in or near many of these alcove sites.

Last updated: February 7, 2022

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 8
Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330



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