Welcome to Mesa Verde National Park! Within this World Heritage Site are some of the best preserved ancestral Pueblo Indian archeological sites. Visitors to this incredible, historically rich site will witness simple pit-style homes, hike ancient trails traversed for over a thousand years, and stand in awe of impressive, 900+ year old cliff dwellings!
Mesa Verde was once home to a substantial ancestral Puebloan society. Today It is home to hundreds of cliff dwellings left behind by these ancient people, all that remains of a life long gone from these cliffs. Tonight, we are off on a journey to experience one of the most well known cliff dwellings, Cliff Palace. Join us as we venture beneath the cliff’s edge for an amazing, small group experience of this long abandoned site. Enjoy this amazing, incredible snapshot into an ancient people’s life beneath the cliffs.
A Twilight Experience Inside Cliff Palace
Most people experience Cliff Palace from a distant cliff, or by one of the large day group tours offered by the park. Experiencing Cliff Palace at dusk is quite different than those crowded, day time tours, or seeing it only from a distant cliff! A Twilight Tour affords visitors amazing, up-close and uncrowded views of this ancient site as the sun sets over the plateau.
The experience begins high above the ruins, where visitors meet their park ranger guide for the evening. Come prepared for an adventure not soon forgotten. Also come prepared for a fairly strenuous hike! This is a cliff dwelling, and as such, there will be elevations to descend and ascend, as well as ladders. But it is all worth the physical efforts.
From the moment the tour guide makes her presence known, you’ll realize that this isn’t an ordinary tour! Perhaps it is her 19th century wardrobe that tips you off that this might just be a very entertaining 90 minutes. Pay attention as you make your way down the narrow trail leading beneath the cliff. Listen as she regales the group with tales from the late 19th century and of those who “discovered” this incredible site.
Cliff Palace’s location tucked within the shelter of a ledge has protected it from Mother Nature’s destructive forces, preserving it through the years. It’s pretty safe to say those 19th century explorers were not the first to come upon this site! However, their rediscovery was instrumental in ensuring the site remains preserved for generations to come.
Soak it all in as the trail rounds the corner for the first up-close view with an ancient past. You are about to enter this incredible 900+ year old cliff dwelling. Let the ancient world take hold of your thoughts, your imagination, as you continue forward into an ancient Puebloan village.
Up Close With Ancient Cliff Dwellings
At its peak, Cliff Palace encompassed about 150 rooms, including more than 20 circular rooms. Some structures were only one story tall. Others stretched as high as four stories tall, quite a feat for the time, the location, and the small number of people who lived here!
Imagine the efforts it must have taken these ancient people to transport building materials from the plateau high above to this ledge tucked beneath the edge. The Cliff Palace builders utilized stone, mud mortar and timber to build their structures, all of which had to be carried down the cliff. But that wasn’t all they used in building Cliff Palace!
Nothing went to waste here beneath the cliff’s edge. Not even corn cobs. Yes, corn cobs! Listen up as the tour guide points out why ancient corn cobs were used in mortar joints. That’s right! These corn cobs were placed here by the ancients who built Cliff Palace so many years ago.
Step up to the three story tower house, still in remarkable condition despite its ancient age. Peer inside for a glimpse of centuries-old building style and architecture, and the materials that enabled this three story tower to remain standing so many centuries later.
There within you’ll witness original, ancient timber beams cut and carted down the cliffside to this site. Imagine the effort it must have taken, how many people must have been required to cut, prepare, and then transport these timbers beneath the cliff.
Hold in your hands a piece of an ancient life long gone. What was this pottery shard once used for? Where did the people who once used it, go? Why did they leave? Theories exist as to why these dwellings were vacated, but only those who once lived here know the real reason.
An Amazing Experience Comes To A Close
The tour has come to a close, and the sun has begun to set. It’s time to wrap up this adventure and begin the climb back up the cliff before the sun sets upon the trail. Yet there is still time for one final look around this now desolate thirteenth century dwelling.
Time for one last look upon Cliff Palace spread out before you. One last moment to contemplate its former existence as an ancient peoples’ home. Stop for a moment. Imagine life here so many years ago, as Cliff Palace’s inhabitants once also prepared for nightfall.
Time for one last experience as the sun casts a deep shadow across a subterranean kiva. Look closely. One can still see the fire pit and a nearby ventilation shaft to allow for fresh air. You can almost smell the fire, see an ancient people gathering around it as evening closes in.
As the sun sets across the plateau, and upon this amazing experience, one can’t help but wonder, what was the ultimate cause for these native Americans to leave their elaborately built cliff homes for places unknown?
Why Book A Cliff Palace Twilight Tour?
A Cliff Palace Twilight Tour affords its visitors amazing, uncrowded views of Mesa Verde’s largest cliff dwelling, and comes highly recommended! Experiencing Cliff Palace as dusk settles across the mesa is a surreal, almost ghostly experience. It might just be the very highlight of a day spent in Mesa Verde National Park.
You will need to book far in advance to ensure tour availability. We booked 6 months out for a late June experience, and capacity was already limited. A Cliff Palace Twilight Tour has a $20 per person fee, but it is a fee worth every penny to experience Cliff Palace beneath the fading daylight, no crowd blocking the views of this massive, wondrous ancient site.
Advance reservations are booked through Recreation.Gov. Twilight tours only run once a day, and fill up fast. Note that Twilight Tours are not always offered, in which case, consider a Twilight Photography Tour. It too also fills up months in advance.
Have You Been Inside Cliff Palace at Twilight?
How about you? Have you been to Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado? How did you experience Cliff Palace? From high above? From within one of the much larger day-time tours? Or by this much more intimate, unique twilight experience? Do share!
All images by C. Biederman.