Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, was discovered by two cowboys in 1888. Eighteen years later, Mesa Verde was established as a national park. According to the recorded history, 75 percent of the nearly 600 cliff dwellings within the park have one to five rooms. Cliff Palace contained 217 rooms, 23 kivas (ceremonial rooms), and housed 200 to 250 people.
Going east, Highway 160 will take you to Pagosa Springs where hot mineral springs are open all year. Western paintings and memorabilia are on display at the Fred Harmon (creator of Red Ryder and Little Beaver) Art Museum. Five miles to the south on Highway 84 is the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Park. Bob, a bull elk, shares the zoo with bear, mule deer, cougar, wolf, bobcat, and other live animals native to the area. A fun time to visit is 4 p.m. in the summer (2 p.m. during the winter)--that's feeding time.
If the unknown fate of the long-gone Anasazi intrigues, turn south on S.R. 151 before you get to Pagosa Springs and head for Chimney Rock Archaeological Site in the San Juan National Forest. Beneath the twin rock towers that give the mesa its name, lie the ruins of an Anasazi village high above the Piedra River. Archaeologists believe the Anasazi built their Great House in relation to the moon, and at certain times of the year the public can watch the moon rise between Chimney Rock's twin spires.
If you follow 151 and turn south on S.R. 172, you will cross into New Mexico and S.R. 511. Go west on S.R. 173 for the Aztec Ruins National Park. Despite the name, the excavation is not Mexican, but is actually an unusually large Anasazi pueblo--450 rooms enclose a central plaza where a Great Kiva dominates the space. By 1300, they, too were gone. Why they left, and why this was true of all Anasazi wherever they lived in the Four Corners area, remains a mystery to this day.