About Mesa Verde
The mountains of Mesa Verde rise a thousand feet above the Montezuma Valley in a jagged line of cliffs studded with high peaks. Juniper forests cover the slopes below the cliffs, and scrub oak cover the mountain tops. From this northern rim, the mountain drops gradually southward. Mesa Verde, which means "green, flat-topped mountain", is actually many mesas, carved into this southern slope by abrupt, cliff-lined canyons. Miles to the south, the mesas come to an end as the canyons flow into a desert plain.
The flat surfaces of the mesas are caused by a layer of harder standstone on top of softer layers underneath. As water erodes the canyon floors, the softer layers get carried away, often leaving shallow caves under the topmost layer. In these alcoves, ancient Indians built cliff dwellings, which provided natural protection from both enemies and from the elements. In the larger alcoves, large settlements grew, including the Cliff Palace, which was home to hundreds of Indians.
Eventually abandoned by the Indians, the ruins of Cliff Palace were discovered by two cowboys in 1888. In 1906 Mesa Verde National Park was formed to preserve these and many other ruins in the area.