Colorado Vacations 
Family Travel Colorado 
Your Guide to Visiting Colorado with the Kids
The Geology of Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde's Unique Geology:


Kids on a trip to Mesa Verde National Park can get a great geology lesson.

Unique rock forms created the perfect location for ancient people to build cliff dwellings.









Custom Search


Did You Know?

Long House is the second largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde, yet it receives fewer than 15% of the park's visitors?







Photo: The green table-land, Mesa Verde, rises above the
Great Sage Plain at its feet. Mancos shale forms the tall, slippery slopes.


Geology - The Perfect Location, Location, Location


Mesa Verde's mesa rears over 1,200 feet above the valley floors around it. During the Dinosaur Age it was under a shallow sea. Thousands of feet of mud accumulated under the water and eventually became the material, Mancos shale, which forms the tall slopes of Mesa Verde.

The entrance road climbs up through the Mancos shale, which is slippery and constantly making landslides.

Back when dinosaurs were around, the Rocky Mountains began to gradually rise, and the muddy sea retreated. When the seashore was over what is now Mesa Verde, the beach deposited a sandy layer that later hardened into sandstone. This layer is known as the Point Lookout Sandstone. 

Then swamps grew at the edge of the ancient sea. The swamp plants died and were covered by more sandy shoreline material. The swamps eventually became a layer of shale and coal, known as the Menefee formation. The Menefee is sandwiched between the Point Lookout sandstone, below, and a thick layer of Cliffhouse sandstone, above. This Lookout-Menefee-Cliffhouse sandwich is called the Mesa Verde group of rocks.

Without the Mesa Verde group, Mesa Verde National Park would not be here today for two reasons. One is that the Mesa Verde group forms a protective cap, which slows the slip-sliding erosion of the Mancos Shale. Without the cap rock, Mesa Verde would have washed away long ago and be as flat as the sage plain at its feet. Mesa Verde’s elevation also helped it catch windblown silt, ground from the mountains by ice age glaciers. The silt makes a thick layer of topsoil, great for growing beans.

The second reason that the Mesa Verde group of rocks is so important is that it is perfect for building cliff dwellings.

Water from rain and snowmelt soaks down through the Cliffhouse sandstone on top of Mesa Verde. When it hits the Menefee shale and coal layer it runs horizo
ntally until it reaches a canyon wall, where it seeps out. As it does this, it erodes away the soft Menefee layer. Eventually, some of the heavy Cliffhouse sandstone above drops away, leaving a nice overhang in the canyon wall, with a floor of Point Lookout Sandstone. The cliffs of Point Lookout sandstone make these alcoves easy to defend from attackers below, and the overhang above protects them from the weather.

The combination made the alcoves the perfect location to build cliff dwellings, large and small.



Next Page >>> Quick Wildlife Guide for Mesa Verde National Park



Mesa Verde National Park Travel Guide For Families:

BEST FAMILY ATTRACTIONS IN MESA VERDE

RANGER PROGRAMS FOR KIDS IN MESA VERDE

PICNIC AREAS AND RESTAURANTS IN MESA VERDE

CAMPGROUNDS AND LODGING IN MESA VERDE

TOWNS NEAR MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK

MESA VERDE QUICK GEOLOGY GUIDE

MESA VERDE QUICK WILDLIFE GUIDE

MESA VERDE QUICK HISTORY GUIDE

TRAVEL INFORMATION FOR MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK

CONSIDERATIONS FOR FAMILIES IN MESA VERDE