This is a 5. Why go?
- It's the largest archaeological preserve in the U.S.. some of the best-preserved ancient dwellings in the world, and the only archaeological national park in the U.S.--not to mention inhabited 1,400 years ago for a span of over 700 years.
Driving up to M.V. it's unassumingly flat, and then in the distance you see a uncanningly large, high, abrupt plateau/mound. The visitors center is way off to the base, and here you can plan your hikes. Whatever hike you choose, save time to simply drive the loop. From the loop you can do small (5 min walks) to beautiful visuals from above of the cliff dwellings.
What astonished me was the drive up to the dwellings. That singular mound that I just described is so large, in fact, you begin a solid 30-minute ascent up the mound, driving in repeated circles. There are a few lookouts/vistas along the way up. Then you begin to follow the ridge line into to canyon/dwellings area. Many patches of the ridge forest have recently been burned in a forest fire (this is admittedly disturbingly interesting).
Bring good climbing shoes if you plan to do all of the ladders into the sites (and for the steep hikes and stairs in/out of the canyons).
To fully appreciate this place, you have to have a little background history before you come. Wikipedia: "The Anasazi/Pueblo inhabited Mesa Verde between 600 to 1300, though there is evidence they left before the start of the 15th century. They were mainly subsistence farmers, growing crops on nearby mesas. Their primary crop was corn, the major part of their diet. Men were also hunters, which further increased their food supply. The women of the Anasazi are famous for their elegant basket weaving. Anasazi pottery is as famous as their baskets; their artifacts are highly prized. The Anasazi kept no written records."