American Indian Trails of the West

Colorado’s Four Corners Trail
The Indian cultural heritage of the San Juan Mountains spans thousands of years.

Standing in awe before the majestic Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, brings to mind the word “ingenious” to describe the ancient people who built it. They are remembered for their skilled construction techniques, remarkable artistry and their signature black and white pottery.

“The Ancestral Pueblo people inhabited the high desert around the Four Corners region,” says Mesa Verde National Park’s Chief of Interpretations Carol Sperling. “The villages at Mesa Verde were part of more than a thousand communities throughout today’s park.”

The earliest occupation of Mesa Verde was 550 A.D. By about 1300 A.D., the ancient villages in the Four Corners area were empty and silent. Reasons for the abandonment could include the higher populations’ effect on hunting and food availability; or drought, wind and water erosion; or a potential tribal conflict. Spreading to the south and west, descendants of these ancient people now represent 21 Arizona, New Mexico and Texas pueblo tribes. Some pueblo people say that Mesa Verde was part of their people’s long migration.

A short drive from Mesa Verde is the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum in Ignacio, Colorado. Here are outstanding exhibits of Ute and other Native people’s historical experience and their culture today. The unique, dramatic architecture and design of this complex is reason alone to visit.

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