Mesa Verde National Park, an archeological preserve near Cortez, in southwestern Colorado. Remains of ancient Indian pit houses and cliff dwellings are here. Mesa Verde (Spanish for “Green Table”) is a sparsely forested, semiarid tableland rising roughly 2,000 feet (600 m) above the adjacent land and cut by many canyons. The 81-square-mile (210-km2) national park, established in 1906, includes a museum, a lodge, and a campground.
Hundreds of Indian archeological sites are within the park, both on the mesa's top and in the sides of canyons. Cliff Palace, largest of the ruins, contains more than 200 rooms and 23 kivas (round, partly underground, ceremonial rooms in open courts). It is four stories high in places and once housed several hundred persons.
The mesa was settled in the late 500's A.D. by Anasazi, or Basketmakers—farming people who originally lived in pit houses. They gradually changed their dwellings to clusters of homes on the surface. Around 1200, the mesa dwellers began building large dwellings in the sides of cliffs, perhaps because of the threat of attack. Shortly before 1300, the Indians abruptly abandoned the mesa for unknown reasons; they are believed to have migrated southward.