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Area History

Human settlement in the Animas Valley dates back more than two millennia to a time when Puebloan farmers grew and harvested corn in the area. The first Europeans to reach Mesa Verde in the 1770's did not get close enough to see the ancient stone villages, which would remain a secret for almost another century when prospector John Moss made his observations of the amazing buildings public in 1873.

The cliff dwellings are houses built in caves that form along the canyon walls. Puebloans lived in these buildings in the 12th and 13th centuries. However, they inexplicably abandoned all of them by 1275. No one has ever conclusively explained the reason for the sudden abandonment.

Some of the buildings exceed the complexity of any other contemporary buildings in Europe constructed in that century. The Cliff Palace features 220 rooms, the Mug House has 94, and the Sand Canyon Pueblo, an astounding 420 rooms, 14 towers and 90 kivas, a type of interior courtyard utilized for religious worship. These amazing ancient architects also built large dwelling places on the mesa tops, including The Sun Temple, Far View Complex, Cedar Tree Tower, and Badger House Community.

The first European settlement of Animas City was soon abandoned, but by 1877 a new Animas City was granted a U.S. Post Office, thus became an official town. The expectation was that the railroad linking Denver to Silverton would pass by Animas City, but it was actually routed to the south by railway men who plotted out the town site of Durango. When the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad arrived in 1881, Durango gained prominence and soon engulfed the Animas City area.

Durango at one time was so busy with smelters burning coal from the canyons just west of the town that the sky was sometimes turned black by the smoke. Durango became a major coal center when the 162-mile railroad arc between Durango and Ridgway was completed in 1890. However, Durango never tied itself to any one particular commodity and diversified very early on, which turned out to be a critical factor that allowed Durango to survive and thrive through the first half of the 20th century when many Colorado towns were abandoned. Durango today is a thriving and busy modern town, set amidst spectacular scenery.

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt established Mesa Verde National Park. The park was founded in Teddy's words, "to preserve the works of man." The Park is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mesa Verde National Park Video