Mesa Verde National Park is a U.S. National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Montezuma County, Colorado, United States. The park occupies 81.4 square miles (211 square kilometers) near the Four Corners and features numerous ruins of homes and villages built by the Ancestral Puebloan people, sometimes called the Anasazi. The Ancestral Puebloans made these stone villages their home in the 1200s AD, however, the first Ancestral Puebloans settled in Mesa Verde over 600 years before the cliff dwellings were ever built. These first people are known as the Basketmakers and they lived in pithouses clustered into small villages usually built on mesa tops but sometimes in the overhangs of the cliffs. These hunter gatherer people settled and began farming and using the bow and arrow, a weapon that was more efficient and accurate than the atlatl.
By 750 CE, the people were building mesa-top villages made of adobe. By the late 12th century they began to build the cliff dwellings for which Mesa Verde is famous.
Mesa Verde is best known for several spectacular cliff dwellings — structures built within caves and under outcroppings in cliffs — including Cliff Palace, which is thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America. The Spanish term Mesa Verde translates into English as “green table”.
Although explorers from Spain went through the general region in the 18th century, actual sight of the cliffs dwellings by outsiders seems to have first occurred in the latter half of the 19th century. The fame of Mesa Verde soon began to spread thanks to the Wetherill ranchers and the archeological work of Gustaf Nordenskiöld. Vandalism led to President Teddy Roosevelt’s support of protecting the area as a national park in 1906.