Introducing Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park’s archaeological sites span over 700 years of Native American history, from 600-1300 CE. The renowned cliff dwellings, the height of the Puebloans' architecture, include more than 600 alcove sites. These cliff dwellings are each unique and adapt to the topography of the alcoves and cliffs of the region. Today there are 26 tribes affiliated with the site, each with their own unique significances and traditions.
The history of the Mesa Verde region is divided into many eras by archaeologists to help describe what the peoples of the region were doing at the time. Throughout these eras, agriculture was how life was sustained. The weather varied greatly between dry, hot summers and extremely cold winters. Periods of drought were very common, and often dictated where people settled within the Mesa Verde region itself. Alcove homes were built when people began living in larger communities. These communities moved less and began to permanently settle within the canyons, closer to water. Outside of the canyons, smaller farmstead homes were built to support the central community.Mexican-Spanish missionaries were the first Europeans to come into contact with those living in Mesa Verde. After Mesa Verde became known to American researchers in 1874, collectors heavily pillaged the alcove homes, which contained weaving, wickerwork, and ceramics of remarkable quality. These collectors came from federally financed efforts to explore the American West and study Southwestern archaeological sites. However, in 1906 the site became protected under the Federal Antiquities Act, signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt. This was the first act signed into law that protected Native American sites from looting, and made it illegal to purchase and sell historic or prehistoric artifacts without a permit.A group of prospectors entered the Balcony House in 1884. Led by S.E. Osborn, the prospectors were looking for coal seams in the canyons. The prospectors left their names carved into the site. Jesse Nusbaum and a team of archaeologists then excavated Balcony House and began efforts to stabilize the house.
Mesa Verde National Park Today
Today Mesa Verde National Park covers 52,485 acres of land in the American Southwest. It contains sites such as Spruce Tree House, Square Tower House, Fire Temple, and Balcony House. The site today is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is protected because it bears exceptional testimony to the ancestral Puebloan civilization. Each year the site draws thousands of visitors for hiking, camping, and stargazing. The area around the national park has been developed and is populated by nearly 100,000 people. Finding a balance between economic development and the preservation of the natural resources and cultural diversity will be necessary in the future, in order to prevent the destruction of archaeological sites and sites important to the 26 tribes connected to the Mesa Verde region.
Balcony House overlooks Soda Canyon, about 700 feet above the narrow and rugged canyon. The canyon provided a number of important resources used in the everyday lives of the Ancestral Puebloan people. The site contains numerous buildings comprised of 40 rooms, and gets its name from its well preserved balcony. Balconies were common in the cliff dwellings, although only a few have survived to this day. There were not only access points into the second story of the buildings but also spaces used for work or drying food. A common feature in ancestral pueblo sites are kivas, also found at the Balcony house. These were circular subterranean structures that were used for both religious rituals and political meetings. While larger kivas were likely the social center for the whole community, smaller ones were the ritual and social center for specific families.
CyArk documented Balcony House at Mesa Verde National Park over two days in February 2017 using LiDAR and terrestrial photogrammetry. The two technologies were combined to generate a textured 3D model of the site which was then sliced to generate drawings. CyArk was able to document the site in a short amount of time and undertook this expedition as research and development to understand the resolution possible given a limited amount of time. A final report as well as all of the architectural drawings were provided to the park at the completion of the project.
Mesa verde panorama (2018) by Kacey HadickCyArk
For more information on this site, its history and additional resources relating to CyArk’s work please visit
CyArk Mesa Verde National Park Resources.
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This project was made possible by our partner the U.S. National Park Service