Colorful Colorado just seems to be built for family camping because it’s packed with magnificent scenery, fascinating history and superb outdoor adventure. Of all the great places where our family has camped in the U.S. and Canada, we rank Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado as our all-time favorite.
For several days at Morefield Campground, we slept under the stars and explored the wonders of Mesa Verde National Park, which contains more than 4,000 archaeological sites. The park is not only picturesque, but its prehistoric ruins offer extraordinary kid-pleasing adventures.
Our family enjoyed crawling through tunnels, up ladders, over cliffs and between boulders to view the towering ancient ruins. The early inhabitants must have been small people, as many times we had to duck our heads when we entered a room and get on all fours to go through a tunnel. My husband just barely squeezed through one of the narrow crevices. We still have the embarrassing photos to prove it.
Park ranger guides explained that the Ancestral Puebloans migrated from ancient civilizations in Central America and built incredible cliffside dwellings about 700 years before Columbus landed in America. The culture of these peaceful people lasted until about 1300 A.D., when they mysteriously abandoned their dwellings. Why they suddenly deserted the area remains a mystery today. Archaeologists speculate from studying tree rings that a prolonged 23-year drought may have caused them to leave, but no one really knows. An epidemic might have been another reason for their sudden exit.
Their multi-storied colorful sandstone architecture depicts a highly intelligent, artistic and technically advanced society. They even built terraces to increase their farming efficiency. Cliff Palace, which once housed at least 200 residents, is one of three major cliff dwellings open to the public. It contains 217 rooms and 23 kiva ceremonial rooms. Mesa Verde National Park was named a World Heritage Site in 1978 in recognition of its cliff dwellings and exceptional archaeological relevance.
To preserve its archaeological ruins, Mesa Verde National Park contains only the one campground, Morefield, which has 365 sites and hiking and petroglyph trails, where Anasazi paintings are chiseled in the rocks. Morefield offers excellent facilities and evening family campfire programs. Nearby private campgrounds in Cortez and Mancos, Colorado, also are available. For those tired of camp cooking, dining is available at the park’s Far View Lodge restaurant.
Mesa Verde National Park is open year-round, but on a limited basis in the winter because of the weather. During the summer and fall, special events include Hopi dances, cultural demonstrations and lectures. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, visitors can drive along a 12-mile access road to Wetherill Mesa, where two cliff dwellings date from the 12th and 13th centuries and four mesa-top villages date from the 7th through 12th centuries.
If You Go
For reservations at Morefield Campground, go to www.visitmesaverde.com or call 800-449-2288.
For more information about other Mesa Verde area lodging and campgrounds, visit www.mesaverdecountry.com